Conway praises ‘ridiculous, ridiculous rugby coach’ Schmidt

‘It’s just incredible, the standards that he sets, the standards that he drives. Everything’

Ireland vice-captain Peter O'Mahony accepts the Coach of the Year award at the World Rugby Awards on behalf of Joe Schmidt, praising the New Zealander as a "super coach." Video: World Rugby

 

Joe Schmidt’s head was wrecked. He said it last week. Andrew Conway’s head was not at all. A hat-trick against the USA and all the trimmings, Conway was clear and deliberate.

“Scoring tries is obviously great. That’s what you’re after,” he says unapologetically.

“I probably targeted this game. Argentina, I only got a few minutes; New Zealand I missed out on and Italy kind of passed me by. I was adamant that I wasn’t going to let it pass me by.”

In his ear was Schmidt’s voice whispering ‘don’t let this pass you by’.

The Irish coach, who announced on Monday that he would depart the Ireland set up after the 2019 World Cup, has been many things and Conway is abundantly clear after the tortured choreography of a clouded week just gone. All that speculation for a man of clarity.

It seemed in private Schmidt has been diligently putting his affairs in order while facing the rip current of public demand on what he was doing.

The closer to the USA the greater the undertow and the dull realisation that the adult in the room, who had rebranded the Irish team alongside the All Blacks, was shifting towards the exit door.

Conway spoke about the physical act of writing things down, the clear vision it gave him in performing. But Schmidt’s influences are tattooed in his mind. Perhaps forever.

Ireland’s Andrew Conway is tackled by Will Hooley of the USA during the autumn international against the USA at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Ireland’s Andrew Conway is tackled by Will Hooley of the USA during the autumn international against the USA at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

“He’s just a ridiculous, ridiculous rugby coach. You guys don’t even know the half of it,” said Conway. “It’s just incredible, the standards that he sets, the standards that he drives. Everything.

“Everything that he drives, it makes you a better player. But because we are in for little snippets throughout the year; November for the month; Six Nations for a few weeks, you really have an intense environment. Then you can feed on that whenever you go away, try and hold onto it before you are back in the next time.

“It’s pretty amazing how good of a rugby coach he is. Even sometimes when you are not selected, you almost know it’s probably the right call.”

Where Ireland take benefit is from the broad sweep of Schmidt’s radar. He is a face to face coach but the all-encompassing passion for improving teams and players by keeping himself informed even touches those who believed they were far from his tracking system. The faintest beep registers.

“I remember when I wasn’t even near the Ireland team, I had a relationship with him through playing for Leinster,” says Conway. “I could open a line of communication with him and he would send me on comments about my game. It could be from any game. He would have watched it thoroughly. He obviously picks stuff up through hard work. He just has a knack for rugby.”

To some players Schmidt might be too much. His demands go far beyond the pages of the playbook and training session. Its strength is that the culture he created, he lives himself.

Simon Zebo and Ian Madigan, two appealing players with flare and creativity but perhaps not overly open to prescriptive play, are the ones who were allowed go. But if some have found that detailed, personal rugby culture too narrow, what comes back is that Schmidt has always given far more than he has taken.

“He just makes you a better rugby player. You come in and he’s all over everything – your behaviour, your habits, everything is monitored,” adds the Irish winger.

“You know in camp that they are eyeing everything. You’re on the computer, who is doing their extra habits. They might not necessarily say anything but you get the feeling that everything is being monitored.”

In Conway’s eyes Schmidt has created an environment where there is a pathway for actual improvement, where natural talent is one skill set to which many more can be added. Making it tortuously difficult for players is part of the tempering process. Now the environment is brutally competitive for individuals. But the team is stronger.

He has opened eyes and made good players great players. Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Tadhg Furlong and another generation already led by James Ryan.

Do players want him to stay?

“I can only speak for myself in that, pretty much what I just said,” says Conway.

Is he a one off coach?

“I don’t know to be honest. He is an incredible coach,” he adds. “There’s no one I’ve come across who is specifically like him.

“The great thing is that the leadership group are serious drivers of the standards. Whether he goes or whether he stays is not for me to say, but . . . he has built that around him. And that’s part of how good he is.”

The legacy is in place with players, results, world ranking and culture and because of that a World Cup inflated with importance. Schmidt has given Ireland hope backed up with an expectation of delivery.

With it a country’s mindset has also been changed.

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