Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

New Ireland coach no ordinary Joe

IRFU Announce Joe Schmidt as Ireland Head Coach, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 29/4/2013
IRFU Announce Joe Schmidt as Ireland Head Coach, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 29/4/2013

Joe Schmidt's installation as successor to Declan Kidney as Ireland's head coach is arguably the boldest step ever taken by the IRFU.

Whereas Kidney was famed for his conservatism on the pitch and off it – his relationship with the media, for example, never was comfortable – 52-year-old Schmidt is altogether different.

He's convivial, comfortable and confident and his appearance at yesterday afternoon's Aviva Stadium coronation in an open-neck shirt alongside buttoned-to-the-throat and tie-wearing IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne confirmed that.

He is celebrated as a coach and certainly, in his three seasons in charge of Leinster, he has given that province's players and supporters ample cause for celebration.

So now, deservedly, Schmidt has been handed the job of trying to revive Ireland by instilling the sort of match-winning flair which has characterised Leinster's play since his arrival in Dublin three years ago.

Fresh from having guided Leinster into the Amlin Challenge Cup final, he picks up the reins on July 1 whereupon he is contracted to lead Ireland until the end the of the 2016 RBS Six Nations championship.

But he will finish the current season with Leinster and since he does not take up his new job for another two months that gives him time to select his Ireland management team.

Les Kiss – who, as was agreed at the time of Kidney's sacking, will oversee June's summer tour of the USA and Canada – could be retained, but Gert Smal and Anthony Foley – the forwards and defence coaches respectively – are expected to be replaced.

Stressing that he has not had time to consider those things, Schmidt said: "The job was only confirmed today and now I need to look ahead and start planning, but that's difficult because I've currently got my hands full.

"Hopefully over the next four to six weeks I'll get some time to start getting my head around the new role."

Once Jake White, Conor O'Shea and Mark McCall had ruled themselves out it became a three-way fight between Schmidt, Kiss and Ewen McKenzie. Schmidt's success at Leinster meant he held all the aces.

There were other off-stage considerations for the Kiwi and his family, however, and one very attractive aspect of coaching the national side was that it would enable him to help his wife look after their nine-year-old son, Luke, who has epilepsy.

And although he admitted the change from day-to-day club rugby to clearly defined periods of the calendar will be difficult, he pointed to the positives in that particular equation.

"The windows are suffocating, but there is also more scope to get back and forth to New Zealand," he said. "I have a daughter who is studying there so it would be nice to get backwards and forwards to see family.

"My family were part of the decision; they're very settled here. I've spoken out lately about our smaller son and he's looked after superbly at his school. That was a big part of our decision-making," he revealed.

"I think if you play three (autumn) games and you've then got three months before your next game, I'm sure there are more times for reflection and you certainly hope that's positive.

"But if it's not, it's more time to make sure that those things are done right next time. You get the right people and then forge ahead.

"It's a step into the unknown a little bit for me, but it's an exciting one and one that's highly motivating for me. Hopefully that will be borne out in some of the enthusiasm and performances that the team put together," he said.

Showing deft diplomacy, Schmidt avoided any criticism of what had happened in the latter days of his predecessor's reign, instead pointing to the injury toll Ireland suffered in 2012-13.

"We were a little bit the same with Leinster," he said. "If you do have injuries you're a little bit compromised and you've got to try and fight your way through those periods.

"I certainly sympathise with the recent Irish performances because I certainly think any results which might not have gone their way can be mitigated by the fact that a number of key players were missing."

That said, he made the point that he will be delighted if Ireland are minus key players once again when they head across the Atlantic for those two June dates. In Schmidt's eyes, Lions' calls would be very welcome.

"We've got to wait until a couple of names get pulled out of the hat tomorrow at 11 o'clock and the more that get pulled out, the better.

And then Les has a pretty good list of who else is available to maybe tour North America and also go on the Development tour to Georgia," Schmidt said.

While he accepts that the step onto international stage will be hugely demanding, he is not put off.

"I'm really motivated by a challenge and this is a super challenge, albeit an intimidating one.

"I guess if you're going to find out what you can bring to a group, what better way than to try to take on one of the biggest jobs in world rugby?" he said. What indeed.

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