Baptism of fire looming for Schmidt
New Irish coach expresses concerns over Sexton’s workload and implications for others tempted by Top 14
Head coach Joe Schmidt address the Ireland rugby squad during their training session at Carton House in Co Kildare yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt addressing a press conference at the Ireland rugby squad’s Carton House base in Co Kildare yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
As an indicator of the intensity of the two-day get-together with an extended Ireland squad in Carton House, the recently-installed Ireland head coach had almost lost his voice. As he hoarsely admitted, Joe Schmidt is a little out of practice at this coaching lark.
We can take it therefore, for his first on-field sessions since signing off with Leinster, Schmidt was in full voice, and the players have been taken aback by Schmidt’s presence, precision and attention to detail.
The breakdown area, and the work each and every one of them had done there to date in their provincial games, received the most attention.
Adapting to less day-to-day involvement, and a schedule curtailed from up to 33 games per season to 10, and all of them cup finals, is one issue, not least with a Guinness Series against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand starting in seven weeks.
Then there is Jonny Sexton having played seven games (five from the start) in six weeks for Racing Metro, although it was decidedly helpful Sexton was again in attendance.
Sexton’s game time is also a concern in the context of Racing’s acute interest in Seán O’Brien, and Jamie Heaslip also being out of contract at the end of the season.
“He’s enjoyed his seven games in six weeks,” noted Schmidt in welcoming Sexton into this camp and, he hopes, two weeks out from the Samoan game, albeit with the rider: “I haven’t enjoyed the fact he has played seven games in six weeks, to be honest.”
Flanked by defence coach Les Kiss and new forwards coach John Plumtree, Schmidt added: “They are getting great value out of him (Sexton), not just in minutes played but his kicking has been really consistent.
“He’s shown his attacking prowess and his decision-making is something that makes him, I think, a superb player.
“He is also good at gelling a group together, although that has been a little bit more difficult with the language, but he is really positive.”
Clearly concerned at the heightened threat from the Top 14, Schmidt also observed: “For Jamie Heaslip, Seán O’Brien and those sort of players, with the amount of collisions they are involved in, in a game, would they benefit from seven games in six weeks? Absolutely not.
“In the end the club they were at wouldn’t benefit either because they would end up breaking them if they used them to that degree.
“Certainly it wouldn’t benefit us. It would be a concern for us if they are over-utilised in that matter. If they can be kept in the country that is a massive advantage for us.”
As when he was at Leinster, he will not be involved in the negotiations.
“The wheels are in motion but while some people may feel those wheels need to be greased a little bit, sometimes it’s not from the IRFU end that things stall. I know on some occasions that’s been a sticking point.”