Monday 18 December 2017

The IRFU must make Schmidt an offer he cannot refuse

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

The IRFU need to make Joe Schmidt an offer he cannot refuse and get him involved in the Ireland set-up.

Schmidt is one of the leading coaches in world rugby -- and he's right on our doorstep.

His decision to sign a one-year contract extension at Leinster, taking him up to the end of the 2013-14 season, could scarcely be better timed.

I rate Leinster's main man among the top three coaches in the world.

Graham Henry assumed the mantle as the world's best when leading New Zealand to last year's World Cup, but he has retired.

Warren Gatland is probably the leading coach in northern hemisphere rugby, given his two Grand Slam successes with Wales, the most recent of which led to his rightful appointment as Lions coach for next summer's tour to Australia.

The outstanding Guy Noves at Toulouse, the Alex Ferguson of the oval ball game, has compiled a lengthy list of trophies, including four Heineken Cups, but in recent years his success rate has dipped.


So in terms of achievements on the field -- back-to-back Heineken Cup wins with Leinster, a feat that only the Leicester Tigers of 2001 and 2002 under Dean Richards can match -- 46-year-old Schmidt's success is unparallelled in the world game right now.

And don't forget that he has also led his side to successive Celtic League finals, which indicates that he can augment the preparation of a team for the biggest occasions with a policy of development and cohesion throughout an arduous campaign.

When he arrived at Leinster, he was very much seen as a No 2, after helping fellow Kiwi Vern Cotter to lead Clermont to the Top 14 title they had craved for nearly a century.

However, Leinster full-back Isa Nacewa declared from his experiences under Schmidt at the Auckland Blues -- where he was also assistant -- that the good-natured coach was 'Mr Rugby'. And when this information was relayed to Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson, he barely hesitated in securing his signature to build on the legacy left by Michael Cheika.

Schmidt has won the biggest prizes available with a thrilling brand of rugby, perhaps the most attractive brand seen anywhere across Europe over the past two seasons.

Some of Leinster's biggest stars, who could have opted to chase big-money moves to France or Australia -- Brian O'Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien -- decided to stay at home, and Schmidt is one of the main reasons why these key men have not taken flight.

The New Zealander has been admirably committed to free-flowing, attractive rugby, wedded to a ruthless, hard-working team ethic.

His success has arrived as Ireland have been on a steady slide since their Grand Slam triumph in 2009 under Declan Kidney, aside from one-off occasions such as the World Cup success against Australia.

Hence the not unreasonable calls from some quarters for Schmidt to be co-opted in some form or other on to the national ticket -- and there is a vacancy, given that Ireland have been without a dedicated attack coach since Alan Gaffney departed last year.

Kidney has already insisted that there will be no changes to the coaching panel in the immediate future, but sport is a cruel mistress, and we must remember that the Ireland management team's contracts come to an end next summer.

Schmidt has said that he would be flattered if the IRFU thought that he had something to offer but that it is not something that he has entertained, even if some of his players, like O'Brien, have already said that he would be an asset to the national side.

As I understand it, Schmidt's daughter has returned to New Zealand to start a university course, while his son Tim is a promising scrum-half on the Terenure College and Leinster schools teams, in the middle of his Leaving Cert.

The completion of that course could now coincide with the length of his father's extended contract -- thereby paving the way for a family return to New Zealand.

If they haven't already done so, the IRFU must use this opportunity to persuade Schmidt to stay on by way of a national contract, as opposed to the provincial extension he now has.

Kidney is under pressure after the hugely disappointing New Zealand tour, with South Africa, Fiji and Argentina looming on the horizon.

A successful November series could provide the momentum for a strong Six Nations, given the way the fixtures fall -- England and France both at home.

A poor November and the heat will be on Kidney. Anything short of a repeat of 2009, when they won the Grand Slam, is likely to lead to a change at the top.

Enter Schmidt... providing of course the IRFU can make it worth his while.

It is every Kiwi's dream to coach the Silver Fern, and Schmidt is no different to a number of other ambitious compatriots scattered around the globe.

But it would be remiss of Ireland not to extract as much of his expertise as possible while he remains in this country.

For now, for Leinster and for Irish rugby, Schmidt's one-year extension is a timely boost and a big step in the right direction.

Irish Independent

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