Memories of Schmidt’s impact still fresh in Leinster camp
‘Joe smashed through all that nonsense’ recalls current scrum coach Fogarty
Leinster’s Adam Byrne with Joe Schmidt at an Ireland training session at Carton House. “He didn’t treat me any differently to anyone else.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
On the day Joe Schmidt announced his time as a coach will cease post the 2019 World Cup nothing but nostalgia was going to be on the media menu. The threefold Leinster view of their most successful leader was presented in the form of John Fogarty, Adam Byrne and Josh Murphy.
Michael Cheika tremors could still be felt beneath the Belfield earth when Schmidt arrived for Leinster preseason in 2010. Radically different methodology. Same ruthless intent.
Skills became the instant and repetitive command. Professionally paid props and locks would learn to catch and pass like every New Zealand kid or be sent down to the amateur ranks.
If extreme behaviour was your modus operandi there better be a compelling reason. Fogarty recalls one chastening experience.
“In the Glasgow game away I got sinbinned and was roasted by Joe,” the current scrum coach, remembers. “‘You will never play in this team again if you act selfishly like that,’ which was fair enough.”
The Schmidt era began with Leinster losing three of their opening four matches. Redemption, recovery and a period of total excellence was sparked by a 13-9 defeat of Munster in Dublin.
Cheika was, and probably remains, this confrontational Randwick backrow turned coach who meshed a hard edge into a winning culture that delivered Leinster’s first European title in 2009. There’s plenty of players who have since spoken ill of him. It was a brutally successful environment that, after five seasons, had run its course for many people, including the man himself.
Away from prying eyes Schmidt is equally hard-edged – contrast gentle media interactions with barking demeanour during warm-ups – but he picks battles like someone familiar with the writings of famed military strategist Sun Tzu.
The first was necessary.
“When Joe came in,” Fogarty continued, “the team was feeling pretty good about itself, we had won [the Heineken Cup] and got to a semi-final the following year. We had underperformed at the end of the previous season, despite getting to the Pro 12 final, but we were missing Johnny Sexton so there were a number of excuses we could have used and we did use those excuses.
“Joe smashed through all that nonsense. He was very direct in how he spoke and everyone understood really, really quickly what he was about and that you are not going to get away with that attitude around him. Very, very early on you had a clear understanding what type of person he was and how he was going to deal with you – very straight and direct.”
“His knowledge of scrums at the time was really good,” said Fogarty, who must be a contender to succeed Feek as Ireland assistant coach come 2020.
“Really, really good. If you were to waffle away about scrums he’d catch you. He’d a really good grip on everything – that’s my memory of 2010.
“He’s very clear in how he speaks. There is a huge amount of good information. It is authoritative but not all the time.”
The post World Cup succession from Schmidt to Andy Farrell is not seen as a problem for Fogarty.
“He [Farrell] delivers really, really well in front of a group, really good in his presentations, to the point, clear, with a bit of emotion.”
At just 18, Byrne became the youngest ever Leinster player in December 2012.
It took almost five years before Schmidt made him a current member of the one-cap-wonder club with a start on the wing against Argentina.
“They were the biggest moments in my career. I remember I was studying for my exams and I got a call from a number that wasn’t saved. It was Joe saying ‘Are you okay to be on the bench against Ulster?’ I thought initially it was a prank call.
“I liked that he expected me to deliver and fit into the squad, he didn’t treat me any differently to anyone else.”
Murphy doesn’t remember blue Schmidt days. The blindside medical student’s first and only interaction with the Ireland coach was as Carton House training fodder.
“It was pretty high intensity when I was 20.”
But that’s just the norm nowadays.