Joe Schmidt watches on with interest in North America as he plans for Ireland’s future
Incoming Ireland coach has some people in mind for his ‘smaller’ backroom team
Joe Schmidt in Toronto: the new Ireland head coach is working behind the scenes to secure a forwards and kicking coach. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
During Saturday’s drinking session at the BBVA Compass stadium in Houston one of the few sober Americans wondered how many of the Ireland team would be facing the All Blacks in November.
The Cork pair Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo look like nailed on starters for the foreseeable future, as does Mike Ross. “Wow, just three? What about Madigan and Toner?”
We told him about Jonathan Sexton, Paul O’Connell and Donnacha Ryan but halfway through explaining the British and Irish Lions concept the conversation veered far too deeply into Irish history and politics so we switched topic to America’s gun culture.
Mercifully, we silently agreed to resume a watching brief. That’s also Joe Schmidt’s role since arriving on tour last Thursday night. Still, he found it “very bizarre” to keep schtum as Les Kiss’ interim coaching team were firing messages onto the field during what became a very nervy 15-12 victory.
Silence on matters rugby is simply not in the genial Kiwi’s nature, but it allows him come into the role proper against Samoa in November with a very useful perspective of players that will be central figures come the 2015 World Cup in England. And 2019 in Japan.
“As difficult as it is I’ve tried to just say nothing and watch and listen. It allowed me the opportunity to see some guys I haven’t seen in the training and match preparation environment.”
Without being prompted Schmidt name checks the “two under-20s boys” Stuart Olding and Robbie Henshaw. Olding had a fine debut, even forcing a turnover from Taku Ngewnya in the game’s penultimate play, and while Henshaw had two notably shaky moments Schmidt put it down to some “wicked bounces, when Hume almost scored but Stuart Olding made the tackle on him . . . Robbie made a couple of great tackles in the first three minutes. He is a good sized lad.”
America’s ability to “muddy” the rucks was what denied Ireland any chance of creating a try but “the scrum dominance was something that kept taking the initiative off the USA.”
Schmidt may be biting his tongue in Toronto – he’ll struggle to keep his discipline all week – but he is working behind the scenes to nail down a forwards coach to compare with what Declan Kidney recruited in 2008.
Back then the new coach was able to hire the World Cup winning Springbok lineout guru Gert Smal, who remains a key figure on this tour, especially this week as Devin Toner and Richardt Strauss aim to address a set piece that coughed up four of its first six throws.
We fished around for names yesterday morning at Ireland’s Sheraton hotel base in downtown Toronto.
“I can tell you I am working pretty hard on it. I’ve had discussions so I think by the end of July I might know but some of them may have to extricate themselves but the people that I have spoken to have all indicated they would be interested.
“Obviously, there is myself and Les in place but I would like the team to be a little bit smaller than the previous coaching team so we have got a tight knit unit. In Clermont it was just myself and Vern Cotter and Alex King, so it was a very small group.”
Much like the current All Black triumvirate.
“I like a pretty tight circle so people aren’t struggling to do their bit. If you have half a dozen people you can get mixed messages.”
So, a forward and kicking coach but (“in an ideal world”) Schmidt would like a national scrum coach, initially advertised in March 2012, to be in place so that individual could “actually be the national director of frontrow and scrum development, particularly as scrums are going to change again.”
It means Greg Feek’s double-jobbing with Leinster and Ireland is going to end, one way or the other. Schmidt impressively muddies the initial clarity of his answer on Feek’s future.
“It’s not ruled out but Greg wants clarity, he needs to know where he is so he can put his full commitment into one or the other. Having come from that system where he was in and out it probably wasn’t ideal but, at the same time, he has got a bit of a rapport with the frontrowers, which is a positive thing.”
The kicking coach could be Leinster’s Richie Murphy while a recently retired Munster outhalf, with 1,083 Test match points, might be available during the international window although Dave Alred works directly with Jonathan Sexton.
“The most important thing is we get the forwards coach,” Schmidt reiterated.
The problem is those on his short-list are currently in gainful employment so it is a subtle process. Something Schmidt has turned into an art form at Leinster.
“After finishing with Leinster a lot of people were saying I can’t wait until you do that with the Irish team. It is not like that, it is a whole new ball game, a different group and you’ve got to start from scratch.”