Ireland job is a bit of a risk for Joe Schmidt – the key will be how he adapts to the step up
He could have walked away from Leinster with a glowing CV but instead he’s taking over a team in the doldrums
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt with Eoin Reddan during squad training at Carton House this week. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Whatever happens during Joe Schmidt’s reign as Ireland coach, the one thing you will be unlikely to hear is somebody saying they were against it from the start. If it ends up going badly, there will be no one who can say, “I told you so”. Not only was Schmidt the most popular man for the job, he was being touted for it as far back as maybe a year or more before he actually got it.
This will buy him a bit of time in the beginning. Ireland have been mainly a source of frustration since 2009 and the team’slack of consistency made a lot of people lose patience with them near the end of Declan Kidney’s time.
Because so many people pointed to Schmidt as the right man for the job, the reality is that in the short term anyway he won’t be blamed if that inconsistency continues.
If we’re totally honest about it, Schmidt will need that time. He is stepping into a new world. The habits he had as a provincial coach might not be any good to him in the national set-up. There’s no guarantee, for example, that the relationships he has built up in his time with Leinster are going to be an advantage. You never know – they might become a stick to beat him with.
His main task in the beginning will be to find a way to gel the team together. When Declan Kidney made the same step up from province to national coach in 2008, that was his first job as well. We all sat down as a group after the November internationals that year and raised issues like whether or not we all had the same purpose or the same goal. It’s well known the Munster/Leinster thing got an airing and had to be worked out.
Philosophies and motivations
Schmidt knows the Leinster players but he doesn’t know the individuals from the other provinces as well. He would have begun that process a few months ago and he would have sat down with a good few of them along the way over the summer. He has to get to know what their philosophies are, what their motivations are, what their beliefs are when it comes to where the team should go.
When you don’t know people, you need to build an understanding. I’m not saying that he sits down individually with every player and asks politely how they’d like to play and train. He’s the boss, he’s the one that will ultimately tell them what’s what. But he has to start by getting a feel for who they are.
How do they operate? How do they react to criticism? How do they react to praise? Schmidt already knows all this when it comes to the Leinster players in the squad but he is feeling his way with the rest of them. It was the same with Kidney when he made the step up.