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Joe Schmidt rules himself out of 2017 Lions tour

Published 11/11/2016

Ireland's head coach Joe Schmidt will not be touring with the Lions
Ireland's head coach Joe Schmidt will not be touring with the Lions

Joe Schmidt has ruled himself out of joining Warren Gatland's British and Irish Lions coaching set-up for next summer's New Zealand tour.

Lions head coach Gatland this week admitted there could be "potential" for Ireland boss Schmidt to join his backroom staff for the 2017 All Blacks battle.

But Schmidt has instead opted to focus on Ireland, intent on leading his nation's summer tour to the USA and Japan.

Gatland is widely tipped to take Andy Farrell to New Zealand as defence coach, and Schmidt said he would be "delighted" for Ireland's assistant to join his second-successive Lions tour.

"A big part of the motivation for me not being involved in the Lions was going to the USA and Japan and working with this next cadre of players," said Schmidt, ahead of Ireland's autumn Test against Canada in Dublin on Saturday.

"The best of our players will go on the Lions and the more the better. That would be fantastic and hopefully a few more will put their hands up for Warren Gatland on Saturday.

"But the ones that don't go, they will become a really interesting group for us. And for me, I want to make sure I get to know those guys.

"And getting away on tour is one of the best ways to do it."

Ireland boss Schmidt was initially considered out of contention for Lions duty when his long-term future remained up in the air.

Schmidt only last month signed a new contract with Ireland, committing until after the 2019 World Cup.

The 51-year-old Kiwi had seriously weighed a return to New Zealand for a Super Rugby coaching berth, with family considerations leading to a protracted deliberation period.

Schmidt's decision to stay in Ireland had reopened the opportunity to join the Lions' coaching staff, but the former Clermont and Leinster coach has quickly - but politely - shut that down once again.

"The situation has only changed availability-wise because I have extended," said Schmidt of his new contract altering the complexion.

"I didn't decide to take up the option of a break clause at the end of June. The contract was there anyway.

"It was just that there was a break clause that I didn't opt for. It meant that therefore I was available.

"I thought even in South Africa (Ireland's three-Test tour in June), those three weeks we had getting to know everyone, you start to assess whatever further development players may have.

"What the ceiling may be for them, and where the progress may extend out to.

"You are always trying to make those decisions. It's hard to make those decisions if you are not there."

While Schmidt has moved himself out of the Lions frame, the Ireland boss handed his assistant coach Farrell enthusiastic blessing to tour New Zealand if his services are requested.

Gatland has already been clear he wants continuity from the coaching group that claimed a Test series win in Australia in 2013, with Farrell the leading contender to reprise his defence duties some four years on from that triumph over the Wallabies.

Schmidt's subtraction from the Lions equation could also edge Glasgow's Scotland-bound coach Gregor Townsend closer to an attacking remit in Gatland's backroom line-up.

"I would be delighted if Andy went," said Schmidt, of Farrell.

"Firstly, because he is a tremendous coach and he does a fantastic job.

"And it would also mean that Andy would keep a bit of an eye on our guys.

"It is certainly one collective but he will be able to give us a bit of feedback on how our guys are going there.

"So we would have both bases covered there. That would be quite nice but those will be decisions that are not mine to make."

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