Friday 14 December 2018

Neil Francis: 'Andy Farrell's biggest contribution to England's cause was his own son'

Schmidt's successor yet to prove he can be main man but it's hard to see Kiwi staying away from game

Stepping out of the shadows: Players respect Andy Farrell and fear Joe Schmidt. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Stepping out of the shadows: Players respect Andy Farrell and fear Joe Schmidt. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

An elderly man is on his deathbed. Although he can feel the end is near, his senses are suddenly aroused by a wonderful aroma. He realises his loving wife of 60 years is baking his favourite cakes.

He finds the strength to drag his tired body to the kitchen and as his frail, withered hand reaches over to the table, he suddenly feels the whack of a wooden spoon on his knuckles as his wife barks, "F*** off, they're for the funeral." Sometimes spending too much time with your family can be … detrimental.

Carlsberg don't do coaches leaving their post on a high - but if they did. Our national coach has a heightened sense of humanities and his PR masterclass will ensure that he will leave these shores with applause ringing in his ears and his legacy intact.

There are two issues to debate here - succession and continuance, which the communications people left deliberately ambiguous - because they didn't have answers either.

Spending time with your family is such a catch-all that you never know where to start. I suspect that Joe Schmidt will spend time with his family but when a work-life balance becomes just a life balance you probably yearn for what it was that kept you sane.

Therapeutic

A 53-year-old man with possibly 17 working years ahead of him doesn't just stop doing what he loves the most even though that might be good for him, therapeutic even. What is he going to do?

Whatever Joe Schmidt is going to do he has gone about it the right way. I am told that Schmidt's salary would have been somewhere north of €700k per annum. There was scope for many off-field commercial activities but we are dealing with a different type of animal here. The bulk of it would have been donated to charities close to Schmidt's heart. Money is does not define or motivate him. Schmidt after eight/nine highly successful years would have been well-rewarded - probably not well-rewarded enough and he has, I would guess, enough money to enter into a holding pattern, take stock, engage with people who are important in his life back in New Zealand and start again.

Schmidt turned Ireland from Doormats to Matadors in a short space of time. He could become the richest man in Rugby Union; there are people out there who would offer him a €10 million four-year-deal in say somewhere like France - because that is exactly what he is worth.

I suspect Joe would have no interest in that and probably will not work in the northern hemisphere again. I am sure our friends in South-West London would prepare a large war chest to try and tempt him as well. On principle and on conscience, I think the principal would also refuse. Not everyone would.

I had a good deal of time for Jonno Gibbes and he did a good job for Leinster when he was there - solid, uncompromising, wily and by no means lacking in guile. When it came time to go he packed his bags and went to Clermont - again as a second in command. It didn't work out and he got the top job in Ulster.

He was unfortunate that there was a s**t storm blowing there during his first term and he decided to bail out of Ulster and head back to Waikato 'to spend more time with his family'. However, in the last two weeks of his tenure he popped over to La Rochelle for a job interview and came away with a four-year contract. The pressing need to spend more time with his family would have to wait. He fell a couple of notches in my estimation as this episode was not handled well. Schmidt and Gibbes are two very different animals - we all know that both a player's and a coach's shelf life are strictly limited to a certain window. Gibbes understandably went back for the money. Schmidt won't but he will go back coaching - it will have to be within 18 months. There's a couple of limiting factors. I saw a while back a photo of Barack Obama on the day of his inauguration and one a few weeks before he left office. People do age!

The pressure of being the most powerful man on the planet ages you even more quickly. I saw photos of Joe when he was a few weeks into the job at Leinster and I saw him hours before the All Black game. Same length of time as Obama. He has aged perceptibly - the demands and pressures are not as harsh as Obama's regime but I reckon the American president got to play more golf. Joe probably needs the rest. Sometimes it's prudent to rein in that selflessness streak. Chill a bit!

The issue is that he has an obsession with rugby and cold turkey will set in after a few months - even if he does win the World Cup. He is in his prime and will find it extremely difficult not to do something at the very least within 18 months. Maybe it's all mapped, maybe the NZRFU have a plan organised for the 2020s. Maybe a Super franchise for two or three years before the big one. They tend not to fire the coach of the All Blacks. When you get in you tend to stay until your term is up.

I am sure there will be countless 'Joe Schmidt linked with coaching job' stories from New Zealand - a bit like Lord Lucan sightings - until he does actually start a new position.

What about Joe's successor? I could be proved wrong but Andy Farrell hasn't shown just yet that he can be a front-of-house man eventually or at all. The players say he is brilliant and they respect him.

It might be the difference between a number one and a number two. Alex Ferguson had a litany of assistants who struggled in the leading role. The players respect Andy Farrell but they fear Joe Schmidt - it is an unsubtle difference.

Accession

Farrell's England career as a player and coach was only 50-50 - his biggest contribution to the England cause was his son Owen. In the disastrous 2015 World Cup in England, Farrell copped a bit of flak for having too much say/sway in selection. The Sam Burgess accession into the squad was a Farrell ploy. It did not work and the lynch mob went to town on that particular issue.

Sticking Stuart Lancaster onto the new Ireland coaching ticket might be a little more complex than you might think. Farrell's stock rose on the Lions tour of New Zealand (2017) and Australia (2013). There was a significant jump in quality of strategy and the means of conveying it to the players. There was a very enthusiastic response from senior Lions players.

It is the key factor in being a head coach - getting your message across - if indeed you have a message.

We all know that our players in the provinces have improved markedly over the last 10 years. It comes from the top down. Are we certain that will continue?

Joe's management team have become much better coaches because they are learning from the master. When the master is spending time with his family - a noble aspiration - what happens when Andy Farrell walks into his first team meeting in Carton House to talk with the Ireland squad as its new supremo?

Do we have Alex Ferguson or Steve McClaren?

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