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Schmidt would be 'natural' choice for Ireland -- O'Brien

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Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile

Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile

Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile

SEAN O'BRIEN reckons Joe Schmidt would be a natural if he were asked to be Ireland's backs coach on the summer tour to New Zealand.

There have been a number of calls for the Leinster coach to be co-opted on to the national team's assault on his native land this June, even if the prospect appears remote.

The evidence of the Kiwi's abilities has been clear for all to see this season -- particularly in the free-running rout over Cardiff in the Heineken Cup quarter-final -- and he would appear to be a logical fit for the Irish set-up, which has not had a specialist backs coach since the World Cup.

Defence coach Les Kiss has deputised, but already has his hands full as he tries to get a handle on stopping the world champions from scoring.

And although the Leinster and Ireland flanker was at pains not to be seen to be calling for Schmidt to get the job -- and was fulsome in his praise for the job Kiss did during the Six Nations campaign-- he admitted that Schmidt would be up to the task.

"It would come naturally to him -- but that's up to the Ireland management. It isn't for me to say, but Joe is a world-class coach and he certainly would have input," O'Brien said after announcing the results of the Xbox 360 Ultimate Celebrity Bodies survey in Dundrum yesterday.

"Les is doing a fantastic job -- our running and counter-attacking was good this year, we put some nice phases of play together."

The recent performances of the provinces have again put Ireland's results and displays from the Six Nations into focus, with fans and pundits wondering how the same players can be so effective with their clubs, but not deliver at international level.

"I think there is a big difference, playing provincial rugby and Heineken Cup rugby than international rugby," said O'Brien.

"There is a massive step up there. People think that it should just happen for the national side because the provinces are going well, but you have different combinations and different people.

"I think the more time we have together, the better we get -- although the England game was a write off for us, we got shown up that day.

"It was an embarrassment, but other than that you can see gradually, game by game, we're getting a little bit better.

"It's up to the players to get that consistency far, far quicker than we have been.

"It's a shame we haven't won more as an Irish team and I think we all know that, the players, and want to make up for that down the road."

It has been a long season for the reigning European Player of the Year, who has been on the go since World Cup pre-season training started back in July.

His work-load has been managed carefully, and if he plays against Ulster on Friday, it will be his 12th Leinster appearance of the season -- on top of 10 games for Ireland.

And after a weekend of surfing in Donegal and watching his beloved Tullow RFC suffer defeat in the Towns Cup final against Enniscorthy, the flanker is feeling fresh and ready for the run-in.

"Yeah, the body's in good shape," he said. "The conditioning coaches look after us fairly well, they know every little detail about us.

"If you're not feeling right, they'll give you a day off here and there, whatever you need to get yourself 100pc to play at the weekend. They're looking after that side of things brilliantly; we're happy enough that way as a squad.

"I had the weekend off there and I said 'right, I'll get away now for the weekend and relax'. That was my thing, I didn't have to think about rugby.

"When you get an opportunity to switch off it's good to do so, it freshens up the mind and when you come back in on the Monday, you're ready to go again."

Irish Independent