Joe Schmidt rules himself out of contention for All Blacks job
Ireland coach says he has no interest in job for at least 12 months after World Cup
Six Nations coaches at yesterday’s launch in London: Jacques Brunel (France), Warren Gatland (Wales), Eddie Jones (England), Joe Schmidt (Ireland), Gregor Townsend (Scotland) and Conor O’Shea (Italy). Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
The annual bun fight in the face of an increasingly numerous media presence otherwise known as the Six Nations launch, this time under new sponsors in Guinness, returned to its traditional haunt at the swanky and strictly private Hurlingham Club in Fulham yesterday.
Attending his sixth and last such event, and adamant that he had no real interest in the All Blacks or any other coaching job for at least 12 months after the World Cup, Joe Schmidt has rarely seemed more relaxed.
The Ireland head coach is not normally one to jump out of bed on such mornings and scream “Yippee, it’s media day” – least of all, understandably, when it’s taking him away for the guts of 24 hours from Ireland’s five-day training camp in Portugal.
But speaking for the first time since announcing he would “stop coaching” after the World Cup, Schmidt is clearly happy in his skin. Schmidt will devote himself to coaching Ireland for another 10 months, probably like never before, and then will “certainly” walk away from coaching for at least 12 months.
“And I’d say quite likely longer than that. We’ve got a couple of projects that are family-related that we want to work our way through. And I don’t spend a lot of time at home already so I think it’s probably high time I did.”
He has no interest in considering the All Blacks job when it becomes vacant after the World Cup.
“Not really. I don’t want to bore you with the whole history of it but I’m an incredibly accidental coach,” he said, taking us from his opening forays at Palmerston North Boys’ High.
“I’ve played it from the time I was four years old so it’s not that I don’t love the game, I just think that it wasn’t an intended career and I just have a few priorities that just kind of re-shaped my thinking a little bit.
“At the same time, to be honest, you can’t keep riding your luck,” he added, when skirting through the successes he’s been a part of in the pro game in New Zealand, France and Ireland.
“I think you’ve got to run out of luck at some stage. I felt that we did a bit in 2015 in the World Cup so that’s probably a good time to finish on, post the World Cup.”
Far from finding his last launch strange, he maintained: “No it is a grand old day. We had it in the Sion Park Hotel last year and that was a bit different. This is the time when you know it is real, where you know you can’t avoid conversations about it.
“You know you try to put it off and put it off because I love the completion, it is a phenomenal competition but I hate the pressure and so it is this continual ying and yang that you have in the build-up to the Championship and a massive game to kick it off,” he said, in reference to Saturday week’s opening joust with England at the Aviva Stadium.
Tadhg Beirne will be absent for the opening two games, but could make the third round against Italy, or if not the last two games, which will be a tighter call for Iain Henderson. Dan Leavy could “potentially” make the Scottish game on the second weekend.
Schmidt also expressed full confidence in Johnny Sexton returning to full training today in Portugal and being fully fit for Saturday week’s opener.
Despite Joey Carbery’s form, Sexton rightly remains the clear first choice outhalf, albeit Schmidt stressed: “I don’t think there is ever a master/apprentice. We have a degree of hierarchy because we have a captain, a vice-captain, a leadership group but there’s no hierarchy in training or when it comes to people making good decisions and training well and putting their best foot forward. It’s even like that in other positions as well.”
Carbery had, said Schmidt, “done really well” of late before adding the rider: “He’s still learning. There’s still parts of his game, even chatting to him yesterday, that he’s really looking forward to trying to work on. He was even doing a little bit of work with Richie [Murphy] this morning with his kicking out of hand, but he’s kicked really well out of hand.”
He also praised Carbery’s place kicking, and athleticism, “and I think he’s growing his role at bringing other people into the game”.
For once, Schmidt and the coaches may have to choose two from a fully fit midfield trio of Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose. “At the moment it’s very open-ended, we definitely won’t make those decisions until maybe Tuesday, maybe Thursday next week.”
Now the 5/6 favourites ahead of England at 3/1, Schmidt said: “If we are hunted that’s fine, but we have got to go hunting as well, we have to make sure we have everything nailed on.”
As to what would constitute a successful Six Nations for the reigning champions, Schmidt ventured: “One that we can integrate these new guys. One that we can play at the top of our game, and I know people always want something concrete, something that is objective or result based, and I think, as I said last year, if we can get in the top two you know you are in the mix.”
After winning three titles in his five years at the helm, Schmidt said: “If you asked me six years ago would I still be in the job right now I would have said ‘you are joking’, but I’ve been incredibly lucky to be involved in a period that has been really strong for Irish rugby. We’d love to add another one [title] if we can, but I know that there are five other coaches here today that are very, very motivated to do exactly the same thing.”