Tuesday 17 September 2019

O'Connell: Ireland can still flourish without Schmidt

Paul O'Connell. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Paul O'Connell. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Paul O'Connell believes Ireland's success can endure even if Joe Schmidt departs after the World Cup, as long as the IRFU get the decision on his successor spot on.

The Stade Francais coach, who skippered Schmidt's team to two Six Nations titles, believes the New Zealander is the best coach in the world and says players will need someone who operates at a similar level if he chooses to leave after Japan.

He is due to inform the IRFU of his decision whether to remain in position beyond the World Cup or return home after his team face New Zealand and the United States.

And while he concedes that Schmidt would be missed, O'Connell reckons the show can go on if the IRFU get their big decision right.

"I don't know if there's a big threat of a fall-off, he'd be a loss," he told the Irish Independent before his appearance at Off the Ball's road-show.

"He's the best in the business and I do think we realise that now, but we might feel it more if he goes.

"But one thing the IRFU get right is that they've been developing really good coaches throughout the under-age set-ups and they've brought in really good coaches.

"The likes of Andy Farrell, Stuart Lancaster. Unfortunately they weren't here for long, but Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus... they've made some really great appointments and that'll be the challenge again if Joe does go."

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O'Connell has no issue if another overseas coach replaces Schmidt should he choose to leave.

"I'd have no problem, as long as it's the right person, with what nationality they are. You look at Stuart Lancaster - he just seems to be suited to Irish people.

"So, I think they'll get the right man for the job.

“Certainly from the players’ point of view, after having had so many good coaches, to keep them stimulated and excited and interested you really have to go and get the best for them again.”

Schmidt is due to name his team to face New Zealand this lunch-time after training, with Garry Ringrose, Rob Kearney and Kieran Marmion likely to be included if they come through the session.

Devin Toner could replace Iain Henderson in the second-row as Schmidt looks to shore up the lineout after a tough day at the office last weekend, while Dan Leavy is likely to start.

Rory Best is expected to remain as captain and, while he reckons his successor knows he is under pressure, O’Connell believes the skipper will perform.

“Rory’s strength isn’t eye-catching moments. It is getting over the ball at the breakdown, it’s scrummaging, it’s lineout – I know we struggled a bit last week,” he said.

“It’s his tackle, it’s his cool, calm experience under pressure and a little bit maybe like Jamie Heaslip at times it’s when you do watch the game four times you realise ‘that guy played amazing’.

“But I’d say he’s definitely in a challenge for his position and he’d be well aware of that.

“He obviously isn’t a young man, he’s had plenty of injuries and there are some great young hookers coming up. But I’d fancy him to have a crack off them.”

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