The Offload: Ireland’s Joe Schmidt rattled rugby’s true elite
Outgoing coach has left a blueprint behind, Jamie Joseph will have plenty of options
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland tenure came to an end with Saturday’s defeat to the All Blacks. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA
He shook up the world order. Altered the way Irish rugby is perceived from Samoa to Bloemfontein. He gifted the most important people in the game - volunteers who coach children - a blueprint that could in time be published as The Gospel according to Joe.
That has a nice ring to it. Did somebody mention autobiography?
Schmidt rattled rugby’s true elite. He forced the All Blacks and England to improve. He turned almost everyone into a believer. And yet, less is known about Joe Schmidt the man than when he first arrived in Dublin from Clermont in the summer of 2010.
Maybe he will take the next year away from coaching to gift everyone with what would be a fascinating memoir. Maybe the process has already begun. There might even be a ghost writer on the clock. We do not know. What we do know is the mask rarely slipped this week, or at any time during the past decade coaching coaches as much as players from the Waterford hurlers to Arsenal FC and everywhere in between.
He had a hand in Fiona Coghlan’s Ireland beating Black Ferns at the 2014 World Cup in Marcoussis (at the same game he convinced Johnny Sexton to return home from Racing 92). We know it was Schmidt who came up with the figure of eight tribute to Anthony Foley in Chicago. His finger was in every pie.
Snippets about his past occasionally dripped out, like last Thursday, when he revealed his rugby education began barefoot in Te Aroha on the dusty Waikato plains. So that’s three small New Zealand towns Schmidt’s people lived. He wasn’t on Wikipedia 10 years ago. It leaked pretty quickly that he and his wife Kelly spent a year in Mulligar but most of this great strategist’s background remains shrouded in mystery.
Bet the house it is not the last you see or hear from him but for now, like that, he’s gone.
Quote of the week
“We got reminded and reminded and reminded and reminded that we had lost to Ireland. All Blacks teams don’t need to be reminded that they lost two games to Ireland. They know that. They don’t forget it. We remember our losses way more than we remember the wins. We didn’t have to say anything. It was banked.” - Steve Hansen, All Blacks head coach.
It’s deja vu all over again
The IRFU media relations at this World Cup concluded as ignominiously as the team’s on field performance in Tokyo. To James Ryan’s enormous credit, the young lock faced the tough questions from writers scrambling about the mixed zone for answers after New Zealand’s 46-14 victory. Not a single senior player was visible - they were away doing far less probing TV slots - as Josh van der Flier, Luke McGrath, Dave Kilcoyne and Andrew Porter tried to put sense around a black night.
“It’s deja vu all over again,” was the honest appraisal of Keith Earls, “we shot ourselves in the foot.”
Come Sunday morning, the Irish camp’s response to requests for an exit interview was typical enough: “There is no appetite” to answer any more questions. Perhaps there was nothing left to say and incoming head coach Andy Farrell would be forgiven for avoiding the glare that goes with being associated with another disastrous World Cup campaign.
The Irish camp and media relations were cordial and professional for the most part in Japan with Rory Best, Johnny Sexton and Farrell exuding an air of confidence and authority at key moments, but there was a sense that some of the players believed that travelling hacks had it in for them. This is completely untrue. Nobody wanted to go home. What did they expect, a Pep Rally to celebrate defeat to Japan?
Other travelling media packs would have been way more harsh in a similar scenario. We were never the enemy. Pity nobody let them know that.
By the numbers
21 - Beauden Barrett carries for 79 metres against Ireland is a World Cup record for an All Black.
The rugby world is Jamie Joseph’s oyster
“Ah crikey, a beer?” smiled Jamie Joseph when asked about his future following Japan’s defeat to South Africa. “I can’t tell you what’s next.”
Sounds like Joseph has options. The All Blacks will certainly be interested in bringing Tony Brown into the fold after the clever attacking moves he concocted to put the Japanese wingers into space.
Australia are also in the market for a new coach after Michael Cheika stepped away following five years and a 50 per cent win record.
New Zealand do like to promote from within but Joseph and Brown have stayed very close to their beloved Highlanders, so it wouldn’t be a major stretch.
Ian Foster, the current assistant coach, is the obvious man to succeed Steve Hansen, especially if the All Blacks complete the three-in-a-row.
No way it will be Schmidt, right? No way. He is staying in Dublin for the foreseeable future.
Right? Definitely. Maybe.