Joe Schmidt signs Ireland contract extension until June 2017

IRFU chief executive welcome the New Zealander’s decision to extend his stay at the helm

The road to All Blacks coach is mapped out in the New Zealand rugby union's coaching manual: know thy enemy by gaining "offshore" experience. Ideally become an international coach like Graham Henry and Steve Hansen did in Wales.

But before wearing the thorny crown the nomadic Kiwi must return home to serve his time in the system. Henry became Auckland Blues defence coach after Ireland ruptured his Welsh side 54-10 in 2002.

Not before slipping in the unsuccessful 2001 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia, he finally acceded to the All Blacks throne after the 2003 World Cup.

Hansen sits upon it now.


Contract extensions

Joe Schmidt is to remain as Ireland coach until June 30th 2017. So he will leave in the middle of a World Cup cycle.

Curious, especially considering the contract extensions granted his predecessors, but that’s as much the 49-year-old family man’s wish as it is the IRFU’s will.

On the eve of the 2007 World Cup, Eddie O'Sullivan received an astonishing contract extension until 2012. The lesson was barely learned before the 2011 tournament as Declan Kidney was rewarded, seemingly for the 2009 Grand Slam, with a two-year extension. Neither calculated gamble paid off.

But it's a different era now as a professional, IRFU high performance director David Nucifora negotiates the coach and player contracts.

This one-season extension appears to rule Schmidt out of leading the Lions tour to his native New Zealand, also in June 2017. That's assumed on the basis that Warren Gatland took a sabbatical in 2013, handing the Wales head coaching position to Rob Howley, as he theoretically disassociated himself from one of the four nations that amalgamated for the lucrative tour of Australia.

Unless there’s a marked change in approach, Schmidt will not take the role, leaving Gatland in prime position to go on his third tour, and second as head coach. Schmidt would be a natural choice as his assistant. IRFU logistics expert Ger Carmody has already been granted a sabbatical to plot the Lions’ off-field pathway through New Zealand.

Regardless, Schmidt will guide Ireland through the next two Six Nations either side of the 2016 Test series in South Africa.

A Dublin resident since arriving from Clermont in 2010, he guided Leinster to three European trophies before replacing Kidney in 2013, but only after Les Kiss led the successful summer tour of North America.

Back-to-back Six Nations titles and a 78 per cent win ratio – 14 victories from 18 Test matches – makes him the best coach Ireland has ever known.

"Yeah, he is tough to please," said Simon Zebo, who took longer than others to become a winger who fit the Schmidt ethos.

“He knows absolutely everything about every aspect of the game. You are never going to have the perfect game with Joe, which is great because you will always strive to improve under him and try and make yourself better, and improve from game to game or even training sessions. He is great to pick faults in players and show you areas to improve. It’s great that he demands such high standards.”

Schmidt has been a phenomenon, far extending the brief of national head coach by creating a coaching and player pathway, not to mention a core philosophy for how Ireland play, as he regularly welcomes indigenous young coaches into camp at Carton House. Same goes for Academy players. He’s even taken on understated roles with other national squads like the women, particularly before and during last year’s World Cup when they reached the semi-final.

He regularly appears at club and school training pitches around the country, the former deputy principal adopting a zealous, missionary approach to spreading the word of rugby.

"Joe embodies the core values of the IRFU in what he does and his commitment to the national team is mirrored by his support of rugby clubs and schools," said IRFU chief executive Philip Browne. "He is a tremendous ambassador for our game and will continue to be a vital asset to Irish Rugby over the coming years."

“Yeah, it’s brilliant,” added the converted Zebo. “It’s just a bit of solidity. You know you don’t have to deal with changes and learning a new game plan and things like that. We would be pretty regimented in things we know so far.”

That’s the foundation of Schmidt’s success.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent