Monday 16 September 2019

'It's an awkward situation, he's seen everything we deliver' - Schmidt concerned by Jones' Springboks move

Joe Schmidt and Felix Jones share a joke during a 2017 Ireland tour in Japan. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt and Felix Jones share a joke during a 2017 Ireland tour in Japan. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Oh to have listened in as Joe Schmidt took a call from Felix Jones on Wednesday.

The former full-back had just accepted an offer to join Rassie Erasmus's South Africa set-up, a move that puts him on a collision course with his former coach in Japan.

Jones left his role as attack coach at Munster at the end of last season and his former boss snapped him up to fill a newly-created 'defence consultant' role ahead of the World Cup, filling the void left by departing attack specialist Swys de Bruin.

Jones played eight times for Schmidt before retiring in 2015, while he was part of the coach's backroom team for the 2017 tour to Japan.

If things go according to the seeding, Ireland will play South Africa in the World Cup quarter-final.

Between Erasmus and his defence coach Jacques Nienaber, who both spent 18 months with Munster before returning home to take over the Boks, there is plenty of knowledge of the Irish players.

But Jones' direct experience of the inside workings of Schmidt's set-up is a cause for serious concern for the Irish head coach.

"It's an awkward situation with Felix, I'd a long chat with him yesterday. It's a fantastic opportunity for him to go to a World Cup with a team that are on a massive upward swing," he said.

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"It's awkward because... you don't have to be a rocket scientist; he came to Japan with us the last time, so he was right in amongst us. So you don't have to ask really, do you?

"He was with us, he's seen everything that we deliver and would have a great knowledge of even the language we use in our camp, so it's awkward for us."

Jones' move begs the question of whether more could have been done to keep him in Ireland. Could Munster have done more to retain him? Might Ireland have created a similar role? Schmidt suggested that approaches were made.

"There were a couple of opportunities here, but I'd be a massive fan of what Felix has got to offer in the future, and it will be a great learning experience for him," he said.

"I just hope that we don't suffer as a consequence because he's a smart coach, he already knows a lot about us and if we do get to a quarter-final it has to be either New Zealand or South Africa or Italy that we do play against. That would mean he could be directly opposite us on the coaching bench."

Schmidt said he wouldn't change the team's calls or systems in the event of coming across Jones and Co.

And he said that the team's goal of topping Pool A will remain the same, regardless of who awaits in the quarter-final.

"One of the advantages is if you win our pool, Pool A, you play on the Sunday, not the Saturday, and we play later," he said.

"I think South Africa would probably have a 10- or maybe an 11-day break between their last pool game and that quarter-final, so either way you want to give yourself as much time.

"Whoever wins that first game (between New Zealand and South Africa) will have a degree of control in Pool B, so they will be able to manage their players, and it happened to us the last time.

"Ten of Argentina's starters against us didn't play in their last pool match, so they had this fresh influx of players on the upswing. We came off a French game that we found really, really physical. So all those components come into it and all you can do is try to have as much control over what's immediately in front of you."

"I can't control what Jonesy does. Those days are gone. Once he played full-back for me and I had a little bit of influence but even that, having coached him, he's a champion player, a champion bloke and I think he's going to be a really good coach.

"I just hope he delays that by a couple of months and is pretty average for the next two months. That would be good."

After Saturday's record defeat to England, the quarter-final seems a long way away and Schmidt's major focus is on getting back on track against Wales.

He made 11 changes to his team yesterday, saying he felt the team took their eye off the ball in London.

"The message is probably to keep your belief," he said. "Not to go into your shell. You can't afford to go into your shell now. We've got two games left, we have to get out and express ourselves, we have to get out and play the game.

"I think the worst thing for us to do would be to be conservative or to take a step backwards because we're hesitant or we're not utterly confident in what we're doing or the people either side of us."

Before they can worry about Jones and the Springboks, Ireland have to get their own house in order by gaining a modecum of revenge for their Six Nations defeat in Cardiff.

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