All the signs suggest Joe Schmidt will be leaving after the World Cup
Ireland coach expected to confirm his decision within the next few days
Joe Schmidt: has overseen a remarkably successful period in the history of Irish rugby. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters
Joe Schmidt yesterday maintained that a final decision on his coaching future will not be made until having brunch with his family on Sunday.
But the Ireland head coach gave the strongest hint yet that he will inform the IRFU, probably no later than next Monday, that he does not intend to extend his tenure beyond next year’s World Cup.
True to his word that he would make known his decision immediately following this autumn’s four games, Schmidt gave a clue as to his intentions when saying: “It’s a decision that will probably not be finalised until Sunday really but it’s a decision that’s been a long time coming.”
That it’s been “a long time coming” is most likely a reference to having considered ending his tenure before, as well, perhaps, as being based in Ireland for over nine years come the conclusion of the World Cup, not to mention over a dozen years since first leaving New Zealand to coach at Clermont Auvergne.
Whenever he’s been asked this past month, Schmidt has consistently said it was more a family-based decision than a rugby one. And a further hint was conveyed when he referred to the sacrifices that have been made as a result.
“The family I have probably committed most to is this family that I live with in Carton House,” he said in relation to the Irish squad, “as much as it is the family I have at home. So we’ve put our heads together and tried to reconcile how we can best maybe cater for both.”
Confirming that he will confirm his decision “certainly early next week”, Schmidt added: “I’d like to be able to take a deep breath on Sunday and then...I know I can’t continue to just go backwards and forwards because to be honest I’ve beaten myself up enough about this decision. I’m probably going to be the most pleased of anyone when it finally is made.”
If he betrayed signs of emotion then in front of the entire media corps after confirming the Irish starting team and replacements for tomorrow’s game (when making 14 changes from the starting XV which beat the All Blacks) Schmidt became even more emotional when giving a broader indication that he would be standing down after next year’s World Cup.
His evident appreciation, and praise, of his employers sounded like a farewell thank you.
“I report to David Nucifora [IRFU performance director] and I would have a good working relationship with David. I have felt he and Philip Browne and the committee have given us huge support. I think they are great people to work for. They have given us a real licence to trial things, to take risks.
“Before the first Test in Australia, I think a few people looked at that Test team and said: ‘Where is this guy? Where is that guy? Where is the other guy?’ And it is one of those things that we have certainly felt as a coaching team, as a staff behind the team; we have felt fully supported by that group. That is part of really being able to enjoy a job when you do feel you have got that full support.”
“So it will be a chat with David Nucifora on Monday or it might even be Sunday evening. Obviously the CEO Philip Browne, and as you describe my own CEO, my wife Kellie, and the kids. We are going to get a bit of time for a brunch on Sunday and kind of nut a few things out.
“Yeah, look it is tough for me to be honest,” he admitted, and then paused when struggling to find the words.
“I am not sure, and I cannot believe the support that we have had here as a family. Obviously with Luke, he’s had phenomenal support,” he said of their son Luke, and the treatment he has received here for his epilepsy.
Again seeming to be stuck for words, Schmidt managed a laugh and concluded: “I will ask her [Kellie] the question and see how we go.”
One can only deduce that the decision has, to a large degree, already been made, and it’s assuredly more likely that a decision to end his time as Ireland coach and his family’s time in Ireland would make him more emotional than if he and they had decided to stay.
In truth, he had already dropped the broadest of hints that his time in Ireland was nearing an endgame of sorts, when he gave an interview to The Irish Times two days before the start of what would prove the start of a Grand Slam campaign against France in the Stade de France.
“A patient wife and an independent family” is how he described Kellie and their kids, Abby, Tim, Ella and Luke, of whom only the eldest, Abby, is back in New Zealand where, he joked, she had “gone to the dark side”, meaning the media.
Tim, who will be 23 in December, is back in Dublin after a sojourn in Toulouse and has joined an accountancy firm after completing a Finance and French degree.
Ella (18) and Luke (14), whose epilepsy has been “normalised” since successful surgery in Melbourne two years ago, have lived half their lives in Dublin.
Although it is patently not the case, he wondered aloud about “those poor Leinster players” who “have got to be sick of me by now” and whether he might outstay his welcome.
But, in keeping with this being first and foremost a family decision, Schmidt also confirmed that he and Kellie would return to New Zealand, along with Luke, and most probably when his contract expires after the 2019 World Cup in Japan, although not necessarily forever.
“I would definitely go back for a period of time. I think Kellie and I will both get back, because of the age of our parents. My Mum is still alive, my Dad died ten years ago. But I think our kids are global citizens, and I’m not sure whether Tim and Ella will ever go back. Luke will go wherever we go because he’s still a bit more dependent on us than most kids would be.”
If his departure is indeed to be confirmed, whatever happens between now and the conclusion of the World Cup, he’ll be some act to follow.