Andy Farrell set to replace Joe Schmidt after 2019 World Cup
Addition of Lancaster to coaching ticket also on the cards as IRFU look for seamless transition
Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell during an Ireland training session at Carton House. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Andy Farrell is in line to become Ireland head coach after next year’s World Cup if, or as is now almost certainly the case, when the IRFU confirm Joe Schmidt’s intention not to extend his tenure after Japan 2019.
The IRFU will release a statement on Monday regarding Schmidt’s future, although whether or not Farrell’s promotion will also be announced remains to be seen. The Irish defence coach, like forwards coach Simon Easterby and kicking/skills coach Richie Murphy, is under contract until 2020 and having come aboard following the 2016 Six Nations, Farrell’s promotion would be relatively seamless transition.
The likelihood is that Stuart Lancaster would be asked to come aboard the Irish coaching ticket to fill the attacking void left by Schmidt’s post-World Cup departure in what would be something of a role reversal with Farrell from their time together coaching England. Not alone has Lancaster worked with Farrell, but he’s also been hugely instrumental in transforming Leinster into last season’s double champions.
Farrell has long since been identified by the IRFU as the man best suited to succeeding Schmidt, a scenario that now seems all but inevitable. Schmidt declared his intention to return to New Zealand, more for family reasons than rugby ones, at some point since last February and, having committed to deciding on his future following this month’s four Tests, had maintained a straight bat until recent days.
The edifice cracked further after Saturday’s 54-17 win over the USA when Schmidt effectively let slip he’d notified the IRFU, ie High Performance director David Nucifora and chief executive Philip Browne, of his intentions and their efforts to dissuade him.
“I’ve given them an indication and I just need to talk to people tomorrow and early next week, [then] it will be made public,” said Schmidt.
“They’ve said, ‘don’t be rash, if you change your mind, we’d love to continue that conversation, or if you change your mind we don’t need to have a conversation, or if we just continue as we are, that’s great’. They’ve set out five different scenarios just in case we can sort something out without too much drama.”
The Union wouldn’t be saying ‘don’t be rash’ if Schmidt had indicated he was staying on. This is Schmidt’s 12th season coaching in Europe, and all the indications are that he and his wife Kellie are heading back to New Zealand, albeit he would be leaving Ireland with a heavy heart.
In an ensuing briefing with the daily papers, Schmidt again spoke of the positives of his job, such as “the Carton House family” of players and staff, and the public support.
“I guess I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to working. I tend to be a little bit of a workaholic,” he said, apologetically. “And that means that I’m out of the house a fair bit or even at home I’m plugging away, looking at things with a microscope. So that’s probably a character flaw. If you probably talk to some of the people on the staff, it’s one of many I have. Hopefully they don’t disclose all the other ones,” he joked.
“I first talked to the family in the summer and I’ll be going backwards and forwards with the IRFU tomorrow [Sunday]. I gave myself the deadline of tomorrow, or Monday morning to say this is it definitively. So definitively, yea, it will be then.
“It’s probably frustrating for you guys and I apologise. It’s wrecking my head so I can’t wait until I can say ‘right, this is it’. Either way, the next 11 months is massive, whether it continues beyond that or whether that’s the end point.
“It’s massive. We’ve got the two biggest tournaments we play. We’ve got the Six Nations, that we’re the defending champs, and the World Cup, where we’re certainly not the defending champs because we didn’t get past the quarter-finals and we’d love to do that.”
Save for one 24-hour get-together before the festive derbies over the next 10 weeks, Schmidt said he would be tracking Conor Murray, who made his seasonal re-appearance for Munster in Sunday’s win away to Zebre, Seán O’Brien and Chris Farrell, as well as the 43 players used in this November window.
Another autumnal clean sweep had completed something of an annus mirabilis in 2018, featuring 11 wins out of 12 and also yielding a Grand Slam and series win in Australia.
“It would be pretty hard to top 2018, really,” he admitted. “There’s been some monumental wins; that win in Paris if you go back to where the calendar year started, and you don’t get too much more special end-games than that. I think it got people enormously excited including our squad.
“Then once you know you’ve done that, you don’t want to waste that. You want to make sure that you capitalise on the back of that and I was delighted with the way that the team did.”
The Grand Slam was “special” and ditto the series win in Australia for having come from one down in “a couple of cliffhangers in full stadia”.
Finishing off the year with three more sell-outs and “three incredibly encouraging crowds”, Schmidt said of last week’s historic win over the All Blacks, “but we were blown away by last week”.
“That’s as special as I’ve heard it in my five-and-a-half year stint with the team.”
A remarkable stint it’s been too, albeit one that now seems set to end in just under a year’s time.