Tony Ward and Neil Francis – Ireland's biggest competitive advantage is they have the smartest coach
Former Ireland internationals Neil Francis and Tony Ward both believe Ireland have a great chance of retaining their Six Nations title as they have the smartest coach in world rugby.
Speaking to Irish Independent reporter Ruaidhri O'Connor as part of Independent.ie's Six Nations Rugby Panel, they believe that the biggest advantage Ireland possesses ahead of the opening fixture of the 2015 Six Nations is that they easily possess the best coach in the competition.
After claiming last year's championship and a clean sweep in the Autumn internationals, Schmidt's stock has risen even further and both columnists have lauded the contribution of the New Zealander to Irish rugby.
"If you look at the Super Bowl last Sunday, the New England Patriots won because they had the smartest coach," Francis said. "Not only the smartest coach, but the smartest coach by a country mile. A highly intelligent fella (Bill Belichick) and his team plays to a system."
"That is why that is the single biggest competitive advantage that Ireland have, because they have the smartest coach.
"Somebody asked me 'what does he do, how does he augment the proceedings on the team? and I don't know. I still can't come up with what style the team plays because it just seems to be enhanced common sense."
"His coaching style is infallible."
Tony Ward agrees that simplicity lies at the heart of the Kiwi's success.
"There is a fundamental honesty about Joe Schmidt," he says. "The players buy into, the coaches buy into. As a player, you just cannot put a value on that.
"The players know that if they put the work in in the build-up to a game they will be in with a chance of playing. They know what he demands of them in a game and they deliver
I think there is a unity of purpose with Ireland under him that I like."
Francis added that when it comes to his Six Nations peers, the former Leinster coach is in a league of his own.
"Warren Gatland is a winning coach, he has two Grand Slam, two Heineken Cup and coached a successful Lions series, so you can't argue with that, but I certainly don't think he is anywhere as near Schmidt in the smarts department," he suggested.
"Vern Cotter is a very good coach but I don't know if he can do anything with Scotland. Saint-Andre is just lamentable. Brunel is a decent coach and there will be incremental improvements in Italy and I think with Stuart Lancaster he has brought in structure and discipline. He might have taken England as far as they can go."
Watch the Six Nations Rugby Panel discussion below.