Saturday 20 April 2019

Tony Ward: 'Gatland is prone to grumpiness while Schmidt is far more affable but their success has been built on common principles'

 

Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland have a chat before the Ireland v Wales game in Dublin last year. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland have a chat before the Ireland v Wales game in Dublin last year. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Expert view: Tony Ward

Joe Schmidt was born in Northland, New Zealand in 1965. Warren Gatland arrived two years earlier in Hamilton on the same North Island.

Whatever your take on either, these two proud Kiwis - both decent players in their time - have left a profound influence on rugby in this part of the world.

There is a World Cup still to come before each leaves his respective job for pastures new but given that today is the last day for each in the Six Nations (although Gatland has still to declare his plans) I think it is appropriate to acknowledge the remarkable contribution of both to professional rugby in the UK, France and Ireland.

Gatland wouldn't be on my Christmas card mailing list nor I on his but I admire him as a coach and respect almost everything he has done in the game, even his early less successful days with Ireland.

His record at club (specifically Wasps), Wales and the Lions speaks for itself as he stands on the cusp today of a third Grand Slam while at the helm of Welsh rugby.

Just pause for a moment and take that in. Ireland have managed three in 122 years, whereas Gatland, should his Wales side win later today, will reach the same tally since taking the reins in 2007 - the previous clean sweeps coming in 2008 and 2012.

Even in the undisputed golden era of Welsh rugby they 'only' managed three Grand Slams between 1971 and 1978.

So I'll pay Gatland and his coaching staff (specifically Shaun Edwards, Rob Howley and Robin McBryde) the ultimate compliment when asking just what might they have achieved as a backroom staff at a time when the Welsh (as underscored through the Lions successes over New Zealand and South Africa in 1971 and 1974) had the best players and played the best winning rugby by a distance in that magical era.

I love Welsh rugby and almost everything it stands for, so unlike many on this side of the Irish Sea they are my second favourite rugby-playing nation.

The men leading both nations today may be leading rugby brains but personality wise they are light years apart.

Gatland is prone to grumpiness and irritability while Schmidt is a far more affable personality.

But don't be fooled by the angelic looks and Peter Pan smile because when it comes to rugby he is driven by success every bit as much as his Waikato rival.

Where definite parallels exist, however, is in how both go about their daily business.

Both men have surrounded themselves with top people in whom they trust.

For Edwards, Howley, McBryde, Neil Jenkins etc, read Andy Farrell, Simon Easterby, Greg Feek, Richie Murphy and so on.

However, appointments are one thing but having the confidence to bestow trust is another trait entirely and both head coaches, in their different ways, are gifted with that crucial understanding.

Don't be fooled either by the bluster, specifically from Gatland in the build-up to major matches.

He is from the Mick Doyle school of psychology when it comes to handling the needs of his camp ahead of any game.

Whether with Wales or the Lions he is the acknowledged master at deflecting media attention from players to management. The media clearly love it and so does he.

Schmidt is meticulous to a fault. Never does he say anything that is not complimentary of the opposition nor rival coaches in the build-up to any game. It is undoubtedly different behind closed doors when the ruthless professional comes to the fore.

In their different ways they are both good man-managers.

Schmidt prefers to be in the midst of the action right up to the time of the anthems, with Gatland a lot more hands-off.

The optics would suggest Schmidt is a tracksuit manager with Gatland more accustomed to civvies, specifically on match day.

As for their legacy? The self-belief and confidence that each has instilled in their respective countries has been enormous.

For Gatland it was a case of dipping into the great history and tradition of Welsh rugby, most particularly the success of the 1970s and reigniting that belief, irrespective of life in the regions.

Even now as the Welsh nation descends on Cardiff in support of the national team, the game in the regions is a veritable mess on and off the field.

In his time with Leinster and Ireland, Schmidt has set new standards and levels of self-belief.

While that is no guarantee for future success it will almost certainly make for the bedrock going forward irrespective of who is steering the ship.

As for today? The heart obviously says Ireland but the head doesn't categorically suggest Wales for the simple reason that both teams are essentially similar in design.

Last weekend's comprehensive win has instilled confidence patently lacking at just the right time. Northland to trump Hamilton!

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