Head To Head
Joe Schmidt v Brian McLaughlin
Schmidt cut his teeth as coach with the New Zealand Schools side, and, while with them, he was invited to take a few sessions and then become assistant coach at Bay of Plenty with Vern Cotter. They parted for three years while Schmidt was assistant/backs coach at Auckland Blues before linking up again at Clermont, guiding them to the Holy Grail of a first French championship in 2010 before assuming the reins at Leinster.
McLaughlin also cut his teeth in the schools game with Methodist College before being plucked from relative obscurity by his good friend Eddie O’Sullivan to eventually become a full-time assistant with the Irish team. Now in his third season as Ulster head coach.
Schmidt: Inherited a team with a meaner, more professional culture from Michael Cheika. Managed to maintain that while adhering to his vow that they would improve their handling skills and sharpen their cutting edge. Using the full width of the pitch to explore space they have became the best team in Europe to watch, Test rugby included.
McLaughlin: As the self-styled Brigadier of the Breakdown, therein lies McLaughlin’s area of expertise. Along with David Humphreys, he has recruited cleverly and Rory Best credits McLaughlin with giving the Ulster team their identity back, revealing that before the coach’s arrival discipline in the side was “horrendous on and off the pitch”.
In his last game as Ulster coach before moving into their academy full-time, McLaughlin has cut a relaxed figure in handling himself with real poise in recent weeks. Having texted Schmidt before the Leinster semi-final to wish them the best of luck, he texted again after the latter’s win over Clermont to say either way they’d have a couple of beers tonight after the game.
The outstanding Schmidt is a wanted man, and also an honourable one, and having reputedly rejected overtures from England, Leinster fervently hope he does so again if the Auckland Blues, in crisis and looking for a new coach next year, come calling.