Thursday 21 February 2019

Joe Schmidt leaves the door to the Lions ajar

Ireland's Coach Joe Schmidt and Captain Rory Best pose with the trophy during the 6 Nations Launch event at The Hurlingham Club in west London on January 23, 2019.(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Ireland's Coach Joe Schmidt and Captain Rory Best pose with the trophy during the 6 Nations Launch event at The Hurlingham Club in west London on January 23, 2019.(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Joe Schmidt has left the door to a potential job with the Lions in 2021 ajar.

The New Zealander will finish with Ireland when their World Cup campaign comes to an end in October or November.

Speaking at the Guinness Six Nations launch in London, Schmidt said he intends to take 12 months out to assess his future.

When he announced his decision to leave the post in November, saying he would “finish coaching”.

“That's certainly the short term plan,” he said when asked if his plan was to retire from the game altogether.

“I hadn't made too many plans but the short term plan is not to be involved in coaching, certainly not for 12 months and I'd say quite likely longer than that.

“We've got a couple of projects that are family-related that we want to work our way through.

“And I don't spend a lot of time at home already so I think it's probably high time I did.”

Asked specifically about leading the Lions to South Africa in two years’ time, Schmidt said :“I wouldn't be available if asked at the moment”

“I said to my wife that we'd get these 12 months done and she said, 'Yeah, look, you'll last 12 days, potentially, without needing to do something'.

“And I wouldn't say that I'm looking to do any coaching so it's not something that's at the forefront of my mind.

“I think one of the things I decided in probably a conversation with myself, for want of a better word, is that whatever does happen after that, I want to make sure these next 10 months are as good as I can help the players be and put as much effort into that.

“And so I think that's where your energies go.

“So I'm kind of looking forward to having 12 months where I can just invest that energy in one direction and also not have a daily itinerary or a weekly plan that says this is how you fill your time...and it is very well filled, I'd have to say!”

Schmidt oversaw training in Portugal yesterday before making his way to London and he had a positive update on the fitness of Johnny Sexton who has been out since December 29 with a knee tendon injury ahead of next week’s opener against England.

"Johnny trained yesterday. It was pretty quiet, to be honest. There was some fairly attritional European games at the weekend - I thought Munster/Exeter was one of the more attritional games I've seen in recent times,” he said.

"Obviously, Leinster played on the Sunday quite late in the afternoon so by the time they had finished, these last two days have been pretty quiet.

"Johnny will train fully on Thursday when we'll try to ramp the training up a little bit and our expectation is that he will get through that without any problems at all. He's very confident, the medical staff are confident, and so are we."

Schmidt said there is a slim hope of having Iain Henderson for the final pair of games against France and Wales, while Tadhg Beirne could return in time to face Italy in round three.

And he hopes to welcome Dan Leavy back into the set-up ahead of the second game against Scotland, but faces a challenge to get into the team with Josh van der Flier and Seán O’Brien training this week,

"Dan could be back potentially the second week, he could come back in. He'd inject a little bit of energy and intensity into that Scotland week, potentially,” he said.

"It depends how his week goes this week. If he makes the Scarlets game (on Friday) or doesn't, that will probably give some sort of bearing on whether he'll come back in for the Scotland week, or whether we'll leave him to get him in for the Italian week.

"I guess the other side of the coin is that other players are there and are going to try to take their chances. Dan came off the bench against France in the first game last year for Josh van der Flier, who picked up an injury, and played really well.

“I think that's a nice competition to have if other guys can step up in his absence."

Although Eddie Jones was on his best behaviour in London, the coach has raised the issue of Johnny Sexton’s interaction with referees ahead of the tournament – speaking about the out-half’s ‘bat-phone’ to the officials.

"Eddie went past me just before and he said, 'Right, let's get ready for a few grenades.' He's always incredibly hard to read, Eddie,” Schmidt said with a smile.

"I want to get hold of it if I can. I'd like a direct dial myself. I don't know that Commissioner Gordon is in the building when matches are being played.

"I just think with Johnny, I'm not sure Owen [Farrell] is that different, they're demanding of themselves, their co-players and officials.

"Look at Dan Biggar, I don't think he's any different either. They're incredibly competitive and because they're incredibly competitive, they ask questions.

"The other thing is that they're all incredibly intelligent players, they all know the laws of the game.

"They've accumulated a level of experience in the game that if you wrap those three up, they probably have a couple of hundred Tests between them.

"You've got to make sure there's a respect. Johnny doesn't have as much to say for us because he's not skipper.

"Rory (Best) would be the guy who is more face-to-face conversations than bat phones but I think he manages that really well as the captain."

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