Saturday 24 August 2019

Alas, Joe Schmidt and Eddie Jones is no laughing matter

Australian's bombast in stark contrast to Kiwi's low-key style

Joe Schmidt (SPORTSFILE)
Joe Schmidt (SPORTSFILE)
Eddie Jones (Getty Images)
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Each morning, Joe Schmidt consumes the news at a time when most are beginning to think about breakfast. His media men assemble the clippings and present them to the Ireland coach so that he can be abreast of each and every opinion and assertion.

The fly on the wall of his Carton House room must have just had the most entertaining 10 days of his or her life as the Kiwi read Eddie Jones' daily critiques of Ireland's style of play.

In public, Ireland's management have refused to engage with the Australian but privately they're likely to be seething at his blithe assertions and made-up facts.

Yesterday's comments about Johnny Sexton's parents won't have helped.

Jones' bombastic approach is anathema to the way Schmidt carries out his business in Test week.

The former Japan coach is prone to loud claims. In between aiming verbal bombs in Ireland's direction, he has said that he has no world-class players in his team. Asked why Luther Burrell hadn't been selected, he simply replied that the centre hasn't been good enough.

One frequent motif Jones has reached for during his short time in charge has been comparing conservative teams to Stoke City.

Yesterday, he was asked to draw comparisons between his side and a Premier League team.

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"No-one plays football like us. No-one has a dominant set-piece like us and no-one has got a brutal defence like us. They don't play soccer like that. I'm no Muhammad Ali. We're just preparing for the game," he said.

For seasoned Schmidt watchers, the soundings from Bagshot have been like something from another world.

The New Zealander prefers a low-key approach to big games. He will regularly list members of the opposition to wind down the clock during media engagements and will do his best to ensure there is nothing to go up on the dressing-room wall.

In contrast, Ireland can easily wall-paper the away dressing-room in Twickenham tomorrow with Jones' missives.

Given the Australian's assertion that England have "no world-class players", it was instructive to see how many Schmidt thought he had at his disposal.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion and if that's his opinion of the players in his team, it's certainly not our perception," came his reply.

"Maybe he's in a better place to judge, but our perception is that there are a number of world-class players in the opposition. I think when they combine effectively, they are a very difficult team to beat.


"A lot of people have spoken about the World Cup and 'disastrously'. They lost by three points (to Wales) when they had control of the game, they got a few injuries and lost a bit of their playing rhythm - and on the basis of that they're a terrible team.

"They certainly were very difficult to beat in the last two years and I don't think that's changed too much.

"From that perspective we would perceive that they have a number of world-class players.

"Our perception of ourselves is that we probably don't make those judgements. We have a number of players who are going to go out, roll their sleeves up, do the very best they can and we're excited about the potential that the group have.

"Whether you start labelling them and categorising them, again I don't really see any quantifiable advantage in doing that when you're trying to prepare for a Test match.

"I think it's all about making sure the players are organised, their confidence is good, their cohesiveness is good, so it's not something I've thought about."

Chalk, meet cheese.

Yet, on the field there are plenty of similarities between the way the coaches have their teams playing this season.

"I've known Eddie for a number of years, he was at the Reds when I was at the Blues so we were in opposite camps even by colour at that stage and I've seen what some of the Brumbies and the Wallabies and the Reds teams that year have done," Schmidt said.

"I'd have a lot of respect for him as a strategist, as a tactician and as a motivator of the group of men that go out onto the pitch and give it their best shot.

"So the internal workings, I'm sure, are going to enhance what England are going to deliver and as I say, we're not that affected by the external murmurings that come out of the opposition camp."

For all of his criticisms of the way he perceives Ireland are playing, Jones was equally effusive in his appraisal of Schmidt the coach.

"He's an outstanding coach," he said. "The way he prepares the team, they've always got a clear strategy. They have a clear way of winning games.

"They go out early in the game and try to accumulate goals and pick up the try, they get 15 points and then they try to strangle you. Then they strangle you through their kicking."

Tomorrow, the talking stops and Schmidt and Jones begin their duel in the coaching box. That's where the New Zealander is at his most comfortable and he will hope his team have the final say after refusing to be drawn into a war of words.

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