Sunday 15 December 2019

Rúaidhrí O'Connor: 'The title – Ordinary Joe – is not the only misleading aspect of Schmidt's autobiography'

Former coach's memoirs is light on detail with many unanswered questions

The written word: Joe Schmidt, showing the strain during the World Cup, says in his book he left out Devin Toner as he feared the Leinster lock was facing a suspension. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The written word: Joe Schmidt, showing the strain during the World Cup, says in his book he left out Devin Toner as he feared the Leinster lock was facing a suspension. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

FULLY 327 pages later, the real Joe Schmidt remains elusive. The title of his book, ‘Ordinary Joe', is a message to the reader that the former Ireland head coach is not about to reveal his true self; rather, we are getting more of the public persona we have been observing for almost a decade.

Schmidt, of course, is anything but ordinary. He rose from being a decent provincial player to become a world-leading coach, whose achievements will stand the test of time despite the under-achievement at the World Cup.

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He wrote the book himself. In choosing not to engage a ghost-writer, his views, recollections and opinions go unchallenged and the result is an unsatisfactory read; full of detail about matches, praise for former staff members and players, and pot-shots at unnamed pundits and journalists.

It is light, however, in self-analysis.

It begins as a recollection of a rugby life. In Part One, Schmidt gives a brief outline of his upbringing in New Zealand where corporal punishment and rugby go hand-in-hand, before describing his first steps into coaching at schools level.

At all times, the author is more comfortable in describing the coach rather than the man.

He finds comfort in the minutiae of matches and training sessions without ever truly revealing the strategy behind them.

The reader gets an idea of how Schmidt has progress through life without truly scratching the surface.

Sticking to his mantra that he is something of an accidental coach, he describes putting together video review sessions for the schools team he coached in 1993, while he is perhaps at his most reflective when talking through his three years at the Auckland Blue, where he found the inability to change the team's culture frustrating.

At the end of those formative years, he and his wife Kelly decide to take up an offer to go to France and join Clermont and, at this point, the book changes format.

While Part One is autobiographical, Part Two is more like a coaching manual with some specific matches and incidents thrown in. There are even graphics to assist the reader in understanding the points.

This section may prove interesting to aspiring coaches trying to build their own team ethos, while the story of his son Luke's illness will touch the hearts of parents.

Many of the recollections are already public and a lack of specificity around others detracts from their impact.

He tells of Paul O'Connell calling a player out in the dressing-room at half-time of a win over Argentina in 2014 but doesn't say who. It preserves a relationship, but makes the story less interesting.

A year later, Ireland played at Schmidt's first World Cup but there is little mention of that tournament in the book.

While Wilson's Hospital's 1992 win in section A of the Leinster Senior Schools Cup gets a page and Schmidt's dealings with the media gets a chapter, the defeat to Argentina and the intense, stressful build-up to that game is nowhere to be seen.

It is a curious omission, particularly when, in Part Three, Schmidt switches to a diary style as he recounts the 2018 Grand Slam and the 2019 World Cup in accounts written at the time.

What we get are glimpses of the coach's methods and the odd snap-shot of what went on behind the scenes, but it presents an incomplete picture.

The 2018 Six Nations was a huge success, but the 2019 World Cup was a failure. We're left with little idea of what went wrong between the two, beyond his analysis that looking past the Six Nations and ‘tapering' the training towards the World Cup was a mistake.

He doesn't address the Six Nations loss to England that derailed the year, nor does he revisit the final game against Wales when Ireland played so poorly.

His loyalty to senior men is not touched upon, nor is his team's style of play despite the recent criticism that he did not evolve the game-plan.

Schmidt explains the call to drop Devin Toner as being down to a citing that never materialised. It seemed a strange reason to leave an established player out.

Refereeing decisions are revisited, the high tackle sanctions are discussed at length and the All Blacks loss is dissected in minute, clinical detail without any real sense of why things went wrong.

Perhaps, a month on from the tournament it is too soon to reflect fully, but the book is on the shelves and no doubt it will do well on the strength of his name.

Those who unwrap their presents to reveal his smiling face will not know much more about ‘Ordinary Joe' by the end of Christmas than they did at the start of it.

Online Editors

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