Schmidt hits back at Connacht
Rugby: An unseemly, but perhaps cathartic, dispute has broken out between Leinster and Connacht. In a refreshingly straight-talking press conference in UCD this afternoon, Joe Schmidt was particularly irked by Connacht chief executive Tom Sears’ comments yesterday when it was confirmed that Mike McCarthy would switch allegiance to Leinster next season.
Sears claimed that Leinster have “persistently targeted Connacht players in recent years.”
Schmidt flatly denied this to be the case, branding it as “misinformation.”
“To claim that we have persistently pursued Mike McCarthy is just false. We had not persistently pursued Mike at all," said the Leinster coach. “I know that if you contact the IRFU they will say that we abided by all protocols. And those protocols set down are very, very clear.”
Then it got really interesting with Schmidt revealing that McCarthy - whose stock has soared since last month's man of the match performance, in Paul O’Connell’s old Irish jersey, against the Springboks – almost signed for Leinster two years ago but outgoing Connacht coach Eric Elwood convinced him to remain in Galway.
Connacht are currently closing in on a new head coach to replace Elwood next summer but it has come too late to keep their best forward.
“I think (Eric) was pivotal in Mike staying,” Schmidt continued. “There is obviously going to be a new coach there next year. One thing that is not going to be there is the same certainty that there was with Eric, for Mike.
“To be honest I haven’t spoken to Mike about any motivations. I had a very brief phone call when he said he was interested and the protocols had been ticked off and I just said to him I was delighted. That’s the only contact I've had with Mike.”
Schmidt did express sympathy for Connacht’s plight – Fionn Carr, Jamie Hagan and Sean Cronin are others to move east in recent times with Nathan White and Paul O'Donohoe moving the other direction – but he was adamant it is ultimately the players decision.
The two-time European Cup winning coach was livid that Leinster’s reputation has been called into question.
“Massively disappointed, because we have done everything by the book. Mike is certainly not the only Connacht player who has expressed an interest to come to Leinster. That’s a natural thing to a degree where there is one team that is consistently performing at the top end."
He also made the point that Connacht wouldn't be playing Heineken Cup rugby without Leinster's recent success.
“We would believe that we have helped Connacht build that team by helping them qualify for Heineken Cup [by winning it] which has got a lot of people excited. I’ve got the utmost respect for Connacht in the way they have acquitted themselves in the Heineken Cup with a fantastic win over Harlequins and the win last week over Biarritz.”
In a somewhat related issue, it was confirmed today that Connacht teenager Robbie Henshaw has signed a two year full professional contract.
“His commitment to his home province is a credit to him, particularly in the face of strong overtures from other provinces while he has been a member of our Academy," said Sears.
Meanwhile, Kev McLaughlin (concussion) remains the only concern for Leinster ahead of the visit of ASM Clermont Auvergne to the Aviva stadium (47,000 tickets sold) as Eoin O’Malley, Dave Kearney and Heinke van der Merwe took a full part in training.