Wednesday 21 August 2019

IRFU must make Schmidt an offer he can't refuse

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

In our perennial haste to move on to the next thing, we sometimes forget that the moment is there to be enjoyed.

Joe Schmidt has just steered his team to back-to-back trophies, but he's asked about three-in-a-row. At the end of a long day, he looks and sounds exhausted as he shrugs and says "I just need to find a beverage. Can I say that?"

22/03/2015
Jamie Heaslip & Rob Kearney with Irish fan Charlie Hassett 3 months from Tipperary after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22/03/2015 Jamie Heaslip & Rob Kearney with Irish fan Charlie Hassett 3 months from Tipperary after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22/03/2015 Jamie Heaslip with Irish fan Charlie Hassett 3 months from Tipperary after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22/03/2015 Jamie Heaslip with Irish fan Aidan Shanagher 4 from Dundrum after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22/03/2015 Paul O' Connell with Irish fans after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22/03/2015 Jamie Heaslip with Irish fans after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22/03/2015 Jamie Heaslip with Irish fan Charlie Hassett 3 months from Tipperary after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22/03/2015 Jamie Heaslip with Irish fans Michael Reehill 4 from Dublin & Aaron Redfern 6 from Limerick after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22 March 2015; Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt is pictured on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22/03/2015 Jamie Heaslip with Irish fans Michael Reehill 4 from Dublin & Aaron Redfern 6 from Limerick after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22/03/2015 Cian Healy & Paul O' Connell with Irish fans after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22 March 2015; Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt signs autographs for supporters on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22 March 2015; The Ireland team bus is cheered by supporters on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22 March 2015; Ireland captain Paul O'Connell leads the team into the arrivals hall on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22/03/2015 Irish fans with the 6 nations trophy after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22 March 2015; Ireland captain Paul O'Connell and Jonathan Sexton share a joke on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22/03/2015 Fans (L to r) Ruth Fitzgerald from Waterford & Ciara Pykett from Swords during the homecoming of 6 Nations Rugby champions Ireland at Dublin Airport. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22 March 2015; Ireland captain Paul O'Connell and Jonathan Sexton share a joke on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22/03/2015 Jamie Heaslip & Cian Healy with Irish fans after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22 March 2015; Ireland's Peter O'Mahony takes a selfie with supporters on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22/03/2015 Paul O' Connell with Irish fans after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22 March 2015; Ireland's Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien sign autographs for supporters on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22/03/2015 Sean O Brien with Irish fan Jane O Rourke 7 from Castleknock after the Irish Rugby side arrived at Dublin Airport following their 6 Nations Championship win Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
22 March 2015; Ireland supporters await the team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22 March 2015; Ireland captain Paul O'Connell and Jonathan Sexton share a joke on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Paul O'Connell, Tommy Bowe, and Rob Kearney on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Paul O'Connell, Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald are pictured on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Paul O'Connell and Jonathan Sexton share a joke on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland supporters await the team's arrival at Dublin Airport. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt at Dublin Airport. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien sign autographs. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Peter O'Mahony takes a selfie with supporters. Photo. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Jonathan Sexton signs autographs for supporters at Dublin Airport. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland supporters await the team's arrival at Dublin Airport. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22 March 2015; The RBS Six Nations Championship trophy is passed around by Ireland supporters at the Ireland rugby squad homecoming. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Jamie Heaslip poses for a photograph with students from Newbridge College, Co. Kildare, at the Ireland rugby squad homecoming.
22 March 2015; Eimear McEnroe, from Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan, takes a photo with Jonathan Sexton after the Ireland team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22 March 2015; Ireland captain Paul O'Connell is pictured with supporter Aidan Shanagher, Dundrum, Dublin, upon the team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22 March 2015; Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt poses with supporter Ciara McAteer upon the team's arrival at Dublin Airport after beating Scotland to win the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22 March 2015; Ireland's Jamie Heaslip is pictured on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport with Aaron Redfern and Michael Freehill, Dublin, after wining the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
22 March 2015; Ireland's Jonathan Sexton is pictured on the team's arrival at Dublin Airport with Patrick Greville, Clontarf, Dublin, after wining the RBS Six Nations Championship. Dublin Airport, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

No one would begrudge the New Zealander some light refreshment after Saturday; indeed he is unlikely to have to dip into his own pocket to buy a round ever again given his record of achievement in Ireland.

Five years, six trophies and continued excellence. With the World Cup looming, it is hard not to get excited.

Family

First, though, the coach will fly to Australia on family business. His young son Luke suffers from serious epilepsy and there is hope of new treatment that might help. For a rare few weeks in the life of this obsessive rugby man, the oval ball takes a back-seat in terms of importance.

When he gets back, he'll resume plotting for the autumn, but in the meantime the IRFU should begin preparing a new contract for their head coach, one he won't be able to refuse.

No one gets results like Schmidt, who has transformed the fortunes of the national team since taking over from Declan Kidney in 2013, just as he did with Leinster three years before.

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The press box in Murrayfield is adjacent to the coaching booth and it afforded a rare opportunity to watch the master at work. Schmidt was a bundle of energy, living every moment and continually delivering messages on to the pitch by way of his water-carriers. The players put their bodies on the line, but they move according to plans laid out at Carton House.

When it works, Ireland are a joy to watch and a nightmare to play against.

The New Zealander's contract runs until the end of next season's Six Nations and, while the IRFU had their fingers burnt when they extended Eddie O'Sullivan's contract before the 2007 World Cup, that shouldn't stop them from trying to nail down a man who is likely to be hot property.

The Lions visit the Kiwi's homeland in two years' time, while he may feel that the time is right to return home, but it is up to performance director David Nucifora to convince him that another World Cup cycle with Ireland is worth his time.

Read more: Joe Schmidt: The Irish players were screaming at dinner during the England match

Schmidt is in a powerful position in his second home, a coach who commands universal respect and admiration in a system where he ultimately controls the resources.

He has an intelligent playing base who respond to his commands and has fostered a winning mentality through his work with psychologist Enda McNulty.

He paid tribute to his backroom team on Saturday, particularly fitness specialist Jason Cowman after 160 minutes of Test rugby in which Ireland suffered no injuries.

While he says the World Cup can wait, he has already been to England to scout venues and there is little doubt he has a plan in place, even if his desire to stay under the radar is unlikely to come to fruition.

"Based on the comments of some people including some of our own people we're not that much of a threat, but hopefully we can continue to stay a little bit under the radar," he said.

"I'm not sure, we're going to try because I just think it's going to be an incredibly tough tournament, we've never made a semi and everybody knows that that's where we've got to try and get to.

"That's what we'll work toward and probably the low-key approach, if we can take that into that challenge it would be great because I think you can get distracted and that's always a risk."

Message

Over the course of the last eight weeks, Ireland have drawn criticism for their style of play and lack of flair but the players have remained on message and on board.

Although they struggled to break down opposition defences who were intent on disrupting when they saw one of the coach's famous starter-plays coming, the champions kept asking questions and probing - and at Murrayfield they broke free.

Read more: Schmidt on 'dad duty' as he plans to travel abroad with sick son (11)

"He's a fantastic coach. The trust the players have in what he's trying to do is a major part in why we're successful," Paul O'Connell reflected.

"Defeats like Australia, England last year or Wales last week. . . other teams might question themselves but we have never once done that. We have a lot of trust in what we do."

That trust has long been in place with the Leinster contingent in the squad, and Luke Fitzgerald's performance on Saturday summed up their ability to slot into the system.

The winger had never started an international for Schmidt due to injury, but he hit the ground running at Murrayfield.

"Joe's resume probably speaks for itself at this stage. I think from my own perspective we've a pretty good relationship; it's a professional one all the same, I don't think it's any more personal than with anyone else in the camp," the 27-year-old said.

"What is good is that I kind of understand Joe a little bit in terms of what he expects, I think that probably gives me an advantage over some other guys coming in. I mean, having not played for a long period of time, it means I can just step in and know what's expected, whereas some guys are probably finding their feet a little bit.

"He's probably a huge component of that and I'm sure everyone here will be lauding praise on him and deservedly so, he works very hard and he's very astute as well."

Leinster learnt to shoulder expectation during Schmidt's time in charge and Fitzgerald now wants Ireland to embrace the pressure.

"The expectation will be very high and I think it should be. I don't see any reason why. . . I mean Ireland's great at everything," he said.

Read more: Neil Francis: Clarity of mind is the difference

"I'm not saying we're favourites, I think people know that. But I think we're a really good team. We can't get too far ahead of ourselves. But I think we're great at a lot of things in Ireland and I think there's no reason why we shouldn't go in with a lot of confidence.

"What is good about today is we went out there and we put it on the line. I mean often times you tighten up in those scenarios and I think it's a real lesson for any team going forward who has a favourites' tag in Ireland is that. . . put it on the line, try it.

"If you fail trying, there's absolutely no shame in that. At least you gave it a shot."

The Joe Show  in Numbers

6 Trophies won since he took over at Leinster in 2010; two Heineken Cups, one Pro12, one Challenge Cup and two Six Nations

18 Mike Ross is the only player who has started in all 18 of Joe Schmidt's games in charge, while Devin Toner has played in all of them, coming off the bench twice

5 Johnny Sexton is the top try-scorer of the Schmidt era to date with five. 27 players have scored tries during his time in charge

28 Players used during the 2015 Six Nations

1 New Zealand are the only top-ranked team Ireland have yet to beat under Schmidt

3 Ireland's place in the World Rugby rankings

Schmidt's Ireland record

Played 18

Won 14

Lost 4

Tries scored 47

Points scored 484

Points against 249

Players used 56

Read more: Guts, grit and glory on a day that will live long in memory

Read more: Real heroes' welcome for triumphant players on return home

Read more: Schmidt on 'dad duty' as he plans to travel abroad with sick son (11)

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