Tuesday 24 April 2018

Joe Schmidt firmly in All Blacks frame - Conrad Smith

Ireland must start planning for life after Joe

Former New Zealand international centre Conrad Smith says Joe Schmidt wouldn’t need to coach in Super Rugby to be a leading contender to succeed Steve Hansen with the All Blacks. Photo: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Former New Zealand international centre Conrad Smith says Joe Schmidt wouldn’t need to coach in Super Rugby to be a leading contender to succeed Steve Hansen with the All Blacks. Photo: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Johnny Sexton wants him to stay but before the Six Nations kicked off, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt dropped a broad hint that the 2019 World Cup would be his swansong.

He's been persuaded to remain on before, of course, but his current contract runs until the end of that tournament and most expect him to return to New Zealand, where they will welcome him with open arms.

His success has not gone unnoticed. Last weekend, the All Blacks website hailed his Grand Slam achievements while the 'New Zealand Herald' ran a feature on the rise of the in-demand Kiwi coach on St Patrick's Day, titled: 'Why everyone wants Joe Schmidt'.

People in his homeland have been taking note of his achievements in this part of the world for quite some time, according to the two-time World Cup-winning centre Conrad Smith.

"Very highly," the Pau centre said when asked about how Schmidt rates in New Zealand.

"I speak as someone within rugby and I think he is getting more widely known in the public, and rightly so for the results he's achieved.

Schmidt is tipped for a return home. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Schmidt is tipped for a return home. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"Within New Zealand rugby and with players he worked with before coming overseas, he was always highly regarded. That filters back from players he has coached up here. He's a very good operator. He has a very good reputation.

"From what I've heard, he's a tactically very astute man. He knows the game very well. I've heard (he's) in the Wayne Smith mould, rather than maybe a Steve Hansen.

"All coaches have different attributes but he's someone who has a very good technical understanding of the game and he can transfer that to the players, which is a very big challenge.

"It's all very well having the knowledge but he can get players to buy in to what he sees and to understand his take on the game. That's how you get good results."

Different members of Schmidt's family are based on both sides of the world and so he has a foot in both camps. Although he lived in Ireland in the 1990s, his current association with this country began in 2010 when he took over at Leinster and there are players in his Ireland squad who have been working with him for almost a decade now.

He has admitted he fears members of the team could soon become sick of his voice but he has helped those players win almost everything the game has to offer and they won't be rushing him out the door.

Sexton is one of those closest to him and he reckons Schmidt could be convinced to stay beyond 2019.

"His record speaks for itself," said the Irish out-half on 'The Left Wing' on independent.ie on Tuesday. "It's great that we have him in Ireland and hopefully we can keep him for a bit longer maybe after the World Cup."

Strong

However, the lure of home and of coaching the All Blacks could prove too strong.

While incumbent supremo Hansen appears to favour continuity in the form of his assistant coach Ian Foster, NZRU chief Steve Tew has said that he has been in touch with Schmidt and other overseas coaches and retains an open mind.

There is a theory that Schmidt would have to go home and do a stint in Super Rugby before taking over, but Conrad Smith believes he could bypass that step.

"The fact Steve and Graham (Henry) did similar things, people realise it's a global game," he said.

"It really helps if you've been over and experienced the way rugby is played and operates up here, it can only help your CV and your intel about the game, so I don't think that'd be much of an issue.

"Kiwis, we love to claim people from New Zealand, especially when they're successful, so we're well aware of him and it's helped by the fact our previous coaches have worked overseas - Graham Henry, Steve Hansen.

"He's well within the talks. He's doing great with Ireland. He's someone who could potentially come back and coach the All Blacks; there's a few around.

"It's not an outrageous thought and it's before now - the last two or three years - he was already talked about as someone we'd love to have back."

Former Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip believes the IRFU will already be working on a contingency plan for Schmidt's departure.

"In any business, succession planning is huge and sport is no different in terms of people being ready to step up, having people to manage it," he said.

"Maybe you split Joe's role or whatever, but planning for it is important.

"You can't live in a fairytale world and think that one person is going to stay in that position forever.

"A player can't imagine they'll be a player forever. I'm very much about being in the now and enjoying it, but every so often you've got to take stock and say, 'what happens if...' and plan for it.

"Joe is signed up until 2019, you won't get any other answer from him in terms of where he's going or what he's doing - it's not on him in terms of his position - it's on the IRFU. I'm sure they're fully aware of that.

"I'm not surprised there would be high demand for Joe. He and Stuart Lancaster are the best coaches I've ever worked with. Joe's played a massive role in my career, a lot of players' careers, and a massive role in shaping Irish rugby."

When Schmidt's departure was on the cards in 2016, the union's performance director David Nucifora said that his replacement would come from within the Irish system and name-checked a number of potential successors.

Only one of those remains, defence coach Andy Farrell, and he would lead the race along with Lancaster with whom he has history with England.

Schmidt's focus is firmly on building on the Grand Slam and working towards a successful World Cup and the union can rightly bask in the Six Nations success, but they must be ready to keep the show on the road if he decides to return home in 2019.

Irish Independent

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