Brendan Fanning: 'Could Joe Schmidt be enticed into leading the Lions in 2021?'
The only surprise in the IRFU statement this morning about Joe Schmidt’s exit plan is that seemingly he is folding his tent altogether and not pitching it somewhere else.
He turned 53 in August and appears fit as a fiddle. If you watch Ireland warm-up on matchdays you will get a clear picture of what coaching category he slots into: if Warren Gatland for example is hands-off, a peripheral figure in a suit and tie as the players run the show, Schmidt is the polar opposite.
He is all over every aspect of the operation like a rash. By the time the players are leaving for the final pit-stop before kick-off he is heading towards the coaches’ box in a sweat, with his heart pounding. And he’s going to stop coaching altogether a few months after his 54th birthday?
Clearly family priorities are paramount but the idea of having this man around the house all day may not he every partner’s dream.
So how will be occupy his time? With great difficulty you’d imagine if it doesn’t involve regular involvement in a sport that has dominated his life. Joe Schmidt is clearly not a one-dimensional character but rugby has defined largely his identity.
By mid 2020 he will have had a good few months off, caught up with extended family and friends in New Zealand, and applied himself to creating the best environment possible for his family who have done most of their growing up in France and Ireland.
At that point you’d imagine the Lions will have dropped him a text to see if he’d fancy taking the tour to South Africa 12 months later. With that sort of lead-in imagine the level of detail he would bring to the task? Moreover for a brand that has massive appeal to fans it is constantly fighting for survival in a stuffed calendar dominated by clubs. Schmidt would be the perfect advocate, the ideal man to roll out to make your case.
As for Ireland the pressing issue now is who will take on the job of attack coach. Stuart Lancaster would do a terrific job but by then he will be inundated with offers. Bath, where director of rugby Stuart Hooper would have a relationship with Lancaster going back to their Leeds days, will be leading the charge, waving great wads of pound notes.
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In any case Lancaster already is doing a first rate job for Ireland via his work with Leinster, and trying to prise him away from that might not work given it might not suit Farrell. Given the stress of his commute, keeping Lancaster in Dublin beyond this season will be a hard sell.
More likely Farrell will have to find his own man rather than recreate, via swapped positions, a coaching team that would bring back bad memories of England’s 2015 World Cup. Mark McCall would have the perfect profile, and Farrell worked well with him at Saracens before shifting up to the England set-up.
The silver lining on the cloud that is Joe Schmidt’s departure is the lead-in time to him packing his bags. He will have lots of space in which to figure out a life without full-on rugby, and the IRFU have the same to find another coach.