Monday 16 September 2019

Schmidt begins long goodbye with another victory

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during a post-match press conference yesterday. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during a post-match press conference yesterday. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Yesterday's press conference after Ireland's comfortable win over the US clearly was not Joe Schmidt's last post-match media ritual, but it was the last time he will be in that seat after a Guinness series. The only way he will be attending one of these things again in the month of November is if Ireland get to the World Cup final in Yokohama on 2/11/2019. Which, in fairness, would be a good way to sign off.

The announcement of the coach's departure after the World Cup is expected as soon as tomorrow. Then the long goodbye will get under way. Schmidt has not, to the best of our knowledge, given an off the record briefing to this effect but it seems inconceivable that he will announce he will be staying on in a job that hinges on something a year away.

For him to ignore this would be like outlining how you're going to run a new business before you'd been interviewed for the gig. And the World Cup in Japan will be like a job interview. The body of work to that point will of course be considered - which in Schmidt's case has been extraordinary - but ultimately it will come down to whether or not the target of a place in the last four has been achieved. If it has then how that panned out becomes the issue, and maybe a whopper offer would follow. If not, then that's that.

So it is inconceivable for Schmidt to budget personally beyond that point other than cashing in his chips. If he leaves at that point then it's harder to predict what would follow. The New Zealand job clearly is a yawning gap on his CV, but filling it would involve putting up with a level of scrutiny that would melt his head.

His phenomenal success has given him a soft ride from the Irish media - why would you be flogging a horse who clears almost every fence? - but in New Zealand the demand is different because rugby occupies a higher place in their society.

On his watch it has moved up a rung or two on the ladder here. Ireland have won 18 of their last 19 Tests stretching back to the loss to Wales in Cardiff last year. That affords him a level of respect in this part of the world that would extend around Europe and probably would have to be earned from scratch if he was to go back home, if indeed New Zealand is still considered as home. Whatever he does or wherever he goes, pitching beyond the World Cup makes no sense.

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