Joe Schmidt: ‘It hasn’t been a job; it has been a way of life’
Departing coach admits he hasn’t taken a full day off in the six and half years
Joe Schmidt signs Jennifer Malone’s shirt as the Irish rugby team arrive back into Dublin Airport. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
The decibel level rose periodically as the Ireland players meandered their way through a gaggle of 100 or so well wishers at Dublin Airport on Tuesday evening but the din reached a crescendo when the departing head coach Joe Schmidt appeared through the doors.
It took him several minutes, stepping into dozens of ‘selfies’ and personally acknowledging each of those who came to shake his hand, before he stopped to do a final impromptu press conference.
Schmidt has been consumed by the role of Ireland’s head coach for the past six and a half years, to the point where he confessed: “It hasn’t been a job; it has been a way of life.
“It has been seven days a week and I think I can honestly say, in six and a half years I’ve not taken one, full day off. There’s not one day where I don’t think I’ve either been scribbling notes or watching footage, or getting to a game or doing some coaching: going into a club and doing something. I’ve loved it.
“I’m sure my wife is thinking, ‘what else is he going to do as well?’ I know I’m not going to do it [coaching] in the near future. I’ve been blown away by some of the approaches and incredibly humbled by them.
“I made a commitment that I’m going to absolutely stick to, through to at least June or July of next year. As a family, we’ll sort of step back and decide what people want to do and how we’ll go about things.”
He’s already elaborated on the crushing disappointment of Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand, a fug that certainly hasn’t lifted fully and won’t for some time. But it shouldn’t define his time with Ireland, a tenure embellished by three Six Nations Championships, a Grand Slam, a series win in Australia, a first Test victory in South Africa and two triumphs over New Zealand.
When asked to identify the high points of his tenure from a personal perspective he gave a typically thoughtful answer. “Some of the high points are probably some of the messages I’ve received from in the last 48 hours, just from ex-players, or people who’ve said there was a real impact during the six and a half years.
“I know the trophies are the visible things, the wins are the visible things but you want to try to help people get better, not just players improve. I think that I worked as hard as I could to do that.
“It doesn’t always work out in those two, 40-minute periods, those two incredible brutal, but incredibly enjoyable periods where we’ve had those trophies fall our way. And to end as we did is really disappointing.”
Instead of looking through the glass, I might just have one in my hand, and I’m looking forward to that
In pure rugby terms he chose a moment from 2018. “Obviously, talking about that Grand Slam is special. That first half in Twickenham, that was probably as good as we got. Together with Chicago in 2016, when we played a team that had gone six out of six [wins] in the Rugby Championship, amassed 35 tries, just conceded five across those games against the best the southern hemisphere had.
“We got five all by our lonesome in a super game which was an expression of what we were capable of doing. There’s been some special days with the crowd. I would say one of my best memories is France at the last World Cup [in 2015]. The Irish crowd in the stadium that day, were absolutely phenomenal.
“I know the next week didn’t go well for us with the carnage that happened in that game but when it was an incredibly proud moment to watch the players acknowledge the crowd. And the support that we had, it’s only just last November, not even a year ago, that we had the reverse result against New Zealand, not with the same margin but I felt we really deserved to win that day and the crowd, the crowd was phenomenal.
“So I’ll take away some really special memories, but they’re a little bit hard to dig out at the moment because they’re clouded by the disappointment of, you know, Saturday evening.”
In differentiating between the 2015 and 2019 World Cup quarter-final exits he alights on the fact that he can’t set about trying to rectify the disappointment of last weekend. It hurts more. “Yeah because it’s what you finished on.
“And so it is more difficult, because I’ve finished as a rugby coach and it’s hard to step away with that as your last involvement, but at the same time, I can only work as hard as I can work. I’ve worked with incredibly good people, the staff and the playing staff.
“I know these players and I’m going to really enjoy watching them continue to progress and I think Andy [Farrell] and the [coaching] team, they’re still going to be doing a super job.
“So I’m really looking forward to the Six Nations. Instead of looking through the glass, I might just have one in my hand, and I’m looking forward to that.”