'He has changed how we view ourselves on the world stage' - Luke Fitzgerald on Joe Schmidt's impact on Irish rugby
Luke Fitzgerald has hailed Joe Schmidt for his 'unbelievable' tenure with the Irish team and thinks that his departure after the 2019 World Cup is a 'natural climax' to his six years in charge.
Schmidt was appointed Ireland head coach in 2013 after a highly successful three seasons with Leinster that yielded two European Cups and a PRO 12 title, and won back-to-back Six Nations championships in his first two campaigns.
2018 proved to be his best year yet, as Ireland claimed a Grand Slam, a test series win in Australia and an historic first ever win over the All Blacks on home soil.
After the November internationals, Schmidt announced that he will step down after the World Cup next year and speaking on the Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast, Luke Fitzgerald paid tribute to his former coach.
"I think he has done an unbelievable job," Fitzgerald said.
"He has changed the expectation levels. He has changed how we view ourselves on the world stage and that is backed up by consistent results."
One of Joe Schmidt's mantras has been 'you are what you do every day', which is built on the players forming good habits in everything they do so that it becomes second nature to them on the pitch.
Fitzgerald says that Schmidt's teachings in this area have had an influence on him both on and off the pitch.
"A lot of the learnings have helped shape how I live my life," he added.
"How I view things, how I react to things. He had a massive influence on my rugby career. The habits, the focus he has on that sort of thing, of building in ways to get the best out of yourself. There are a whole generation of coaches and players that have got to experience that.
"The structures that he has built, and the impact that he has had on all the players in those structures, I think that is the real lasting impact."
There will be a lot of pressure on Ireland to deliver in Japan next year, both because of the team's position in world rugby as well as the fact that it will be Schmidt's farewell.
Fitzgerald is backing Ireland to reach at least the World Cup semi-final, and for Schmidt to right one of the few wrongs of his coaching career.
"I actually think it is a good thing that he is moving on," Fitzgerald said.
"It is a good thing for himself, I think it comes to a natural conclusion at the World Cup. I think there has been a stain on his reputation from the 2015 World Cup but I think that is absolute garbage. If you think of the five guys he was missing and the other guys who came out of the team. If you took Conrad Smith out of the New Zealand team, Brodie Retallick, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, that New Zealand team wouldn't be the same either.
"I think they will get that right at the World Cup, I think we'll get to at least the semi-final and I think it will come to a natural climax."
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