Irish rugby has been transformed in recent years and credit should go to the IRFU for the structures they have put in place which have made this possible. The top players have by and large been retained by the Irish provinces, and the successes of Munster and Leinster in winning four of the last six Heineken Cups reflects this. At national level Ireland has won Triple Crowns, a Grand Slam and provided the captain for the last two Lions tours. However, there is still a sense that this golden generation have underperformed on the international stage.
Elimination at the pool stages of RWC 2007 and the defeat against Wales in the quarter final in 2011 showed that this Irish side has been unable to build on the provincial dominance they have enjoyed. 2012 has again been disappointing for Ireland despite Leinster and Ulster making the semi finals of the Heineken Cup.
Leinster players currently dominate the Irish national team, the backline in particular. Rob Kearney and Brian O’Driscoll would make their way into most national sides. Joe Schmidt has worked wonders with this group of players. His input, combined with the familiarity and understanding that exists within the backline, has allowed it to function with such clinical efficiency.
Schmidt has quietly moved through the ranks gaining many plaudits along the way. In 2004 he coached Bay of Plenty to Ranfurly Shield success (the holy grail of NZ provincial rugby) for the first and only time in its long history. He spent three years as Assistant Coach of the Auckland Blues before joining Vern Cotter at Clermont Auvergne. During his stint in France, Clermont made four successive Top 14 Finals, winning the title for the first time in the clubs history in his final year. While Leinster are attempting to secure back to back Heineken titles under Schmidt, a feat only previously achieved by Leicester.
On the basis of his achievements Schmidt would appear eminently better qualified for an International coaching position than Stuart Lancaster. The IRFU has the opportunity to demonstrate a vision frequently lacking amongst national bodies. Schmidt should be seconded to Ireland for the duration of the tour to New Zealand in June. They currently have no backs coach; Schmidt knows the players intimately, has a proven track record and as a Kiwi insider would be invaluable during a tour of this hostile land.
Ireland was the first team to knock England off their World Cup winning perch in 2004, and O’Driscoll, O’Connell, D’Arcy and O’Gara will remember the satisfaction of that victory. A first ever win over the All Blacks would rightly earn this Irish side a place in the history books and would go some way to easing the pain of failed World Cup campaigns. Schmidt’s presence on the tour would surely increase the chances of such a success.