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Ireland job is about me starting from scratch: Schmidt

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

"Even at the finish of Leinster, a lot of people said 'I can't wait to see you do that with Ireland'. It is not like that, it is a whole new ball game, a whole new level and it is a different group.

"You have to start from scratch."

With those words, Joe Schmidt's attempts to dampen down expectations around his new job as he eases his way into the hottest seat in Irish rugby.

The new coach's CV bestows a special kind of pressure. Four trophies in three years at Leinster means people are looking for a similar return in green.

He is in Toronto this week as an observer, although it remains to be seen whether he can stick to his commitment to allow Les Kiss full control.

The New Zealander is building a back-room team, to be completed by July, with plenty of time to prepare for a daunting first season in charge.

The schedulers have not been kind to Schmidt, who has little margin for error in year one. His season starts with a Samoa side beating all around them, then sees Australia and New Zealand visit Dublin before a Six Nations with London and Paris on the itinerary. Throw in a tour to Argentina and it doesn't get any simpler.

So, he is using his time in the US and Canada to observe and mingle, getting to know players who were previously opponents to be unpicked.

As he looks towards the season, he accepts that pressure will come – especially if November does not go to plan – but as long as there are signs of progress with the processes, he will be satisfied that his message is getting through.

"I keep asking myself the same thing. What is going to be the performance measure?" he said at the team hotel in downtown Toronto.

"Obviously, the Test matches are the performance measure and the black and white measure is the result.

"If our performances are good in those first games and we don't quite get the results, I know I will certainly be disappointed and feel pressure, but at the same time I will at least feel that we're going into a certain direction.

"Leading into the Six Nations, it wouldn't be a catastrophe, but it certainly would be a massive frustration for me and the supporters."

An inability to achieve consistency proved to be the key to his predecessor Declan Kidney's downfall.

Schmidt, who cast his eye over some new faces on Saturday night as an inexperienced Irish side struggled to a 15-12 win over the Americans in the Houston heat, believes that achieving a more regular high performance will come from improving the depth available and picking the right coaching ticket.

"The first thing is to get a really good coaching team together," he said.

With 11 players either with, soon to join, or departed from the Lions and others rested or injured, one of the conversations that has dominated after Saturday night is how many of these players who are on this Ireland tour will be around come November.

Five players made their Test debuts on Saturday night, three more made their first starts. Could they have a part to play as early as next season?

"It's hard to say," Schmidt said. "I think what is important is that you've got to have depth in positions. If you don't have depth, then you're always vulnerable."

Belfast Telegraph


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