According to sports betting site Paddy Power, there are nearly as many candidates for the Ireland Head Coach role as there are runners and riders for this weekend’s Grand National. The reality is, however, that only a handful of those mentioned are realistic contenders. There is one stand-out candidate and if he could be prised from his current role at Leinster, Joe Schmidt would surely be the man for the job.
Coaches at the highest level are, in the most part, experienced, hard working and technically accomplished. Those who excel have something extra – a secret sauce perhaps. Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith at the Chiefs have it. Jake White has it. Ewen McKenzie has it. Stuart Lancaster looks to have it, as does Sir John Kirwan. They have exceptional interpersonal skills and an uncanny ability to develop a bond and a trust with their players. They understand the importance of developing a culture within their player group. A culture built on common values, trust and hard work. Ultimately they succeed in extracting the absolute maximum potential from their team.
Joe Schmidt has yet to coach at International level, but he has shown himself to have what it takes. Having had success coaching school 1st XVs and New Zealand Schools, he then coached Bay of Plenty to Ranfurly Shield glory for the only time in its history. After three years as assistant coach at the Blues, he joined Clermont as assistant to Vern Cotter, where the club won the Top 14 title for the first time in its history. The success in winning consecutive Heineken Cup titles with Leinster spoke volumes about Schmidt’s ability.
Schmidt’s experience as a backs coach was ideal for the talented but underperforming Leinster back division he inherited. In the words of Leinster veteran Isa Nacewa “Joe kept it fairly simple when he first arrived but he then got us to pay attention to detail, the depth of attack, the type of pass, the angle, the support runs, all these little things that add up”. It is not by chance that the Leinster backline of the last few years have been more dynamic and incisive than many of the same players manage in the green of Ireland.
Schmidt’s Monday morning match review sessions have become part of Leinster Rugby folklore. There is no room for sensitivity and nowhere to hide when Joe Schmidt dissects each player’s performance. But when there’s trust and a common goal amongst a group of players such honesty produces positive results, as it has done throughout Schmidt’s coaching career.
The strength of the relationship Schmidt developed with Brian O’Driscoll was evidenced at the final whistle of the 2012 Heineken Cup Final. The two embraced and a glance was exchanged which spoke volumes of the bond between the two. Both men were leaders and together had taken the team to heights that few would have dared dream of. There must have been times during the last couple of years that O’Driscoll wished he was working alongside Schmidt in the Ireland team.
With a young family, Schmidt may have plans to return to New Zealand at the end of his Leinster contract in 2014. But if he could be persuaded to commit to a contract with Ireland (with the approval of Leinster) the IRFU would surely be remiss not to secure Schmidt’s services as head coach.
Do you think Josef Schmidt is the right man for the job? Comments below…