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Irish to play it cool over Schmidt's future plans

 

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

It is good to have options, and when he eventually takes some time to consider his future towards the end of this year, Joe Schmidt will have plenty.

Family will come first for the 52-year-old, who has been living away from his native New Zealand since 2007 when he joined his coaching partner in crime Vern Cotter in France with Clermont. At the end of the 2019 World Cup, he'll have been coaching in Ireland for 10 consecutive seasons.

Second guessing that element of the Ireland head coach's decision is a fool's errand. His family is split between Ireland and New Zealand, with his mother and daughter back home and the rest of his immediate family in Dublin, and only he knows where his heart will lie when push comes to shove.

The IRFU are happy to wait patiently on his decision. His assistants are signed up for another season after Schmidt's contract expires and, in Andy Farrell, there is a head coach ready and waiting if required.

Schmidt, most certainly, will not be short of offers when he makes his big decision. Steve Hansen will move on after the World Cup and, while he is pushing the case of his head coach Ian Foster and the NZRU like to promote from within, nothing is set in stone.

According to performance director David Nucifora, the Kiwis made a big play for their man in 2016 and they will be back again this time around.

Yesterday, The Australian newspaper floated the idea that Schmidt would make a perfect replacement for Michael Cheika, who is likely to move on after the World Cup, while England may look for a new coach sooner rather than later.

If Schmidt would prefer the day-to-day interaction of club coaching, there would be a queue of French clubs at his door. And yet there is optimism within Ireland that he might be persuaded to stay beyond 2019.

The lure of New Zealand will be strong, but the assumption that Schmidt would relish a crack at the All Blacks job is not that clear-cut.

"I don't think it is straightforward that it's what he desperately wants to do," Nucifora said this week.

"I don't think that this has been some grand plan to come here and do what he's done just so he can coach New Zealand. That's not him.

"I don't think it's as simple as that, he's got other things in his life that he's dealt with. Those things drove him the last time and they'll probably drive him again this time."

Although the Kiwi conveyor belt keeps producing outrageous talents, there are still questions over whether the current team can replicate the feats of the golden generation who won the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.

New Zealand are firmly No.1, but Ireland, Australia and the Lions have put a dent in their shroud of invincibility, while the money in Europe is beginning to erode the depth available to the world champions with Julian Savea the latest big name to depart.

So far the IRFU have largely been able to limit the flow of talent from Ireland abroad and the system is run to Schmidt's liking. He denies that he has total control, but his influence is felt in every department of Irish rugby.

The player pool may not be the deepest or the most talented in the global game, but the highly-educated Irish players respond well to Schmidt's data-driven approach.

Newcomer Tadhg Beirne spoke this week of being blown away by the level of detail required to run the game plan, and not everyone is able to take it all in, but the Irish players have largely bought into it.

Five years into the job, Schmidt may no longer have all-time greats like Paul O'Connell, Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip available to him, but he has built a squad that is now deeper than ever before.

So he is able to challenge the likes of Sean Cronin and Jack Conan to perform for him tomorrow or risk losing major ground in their quest for a World Cup spot because of the levels of competition.

He has spoken about his concern that some players may be tired of his voice, but he is a proven winner who has facilitated some of the biggest days in those players' careers, and they buy into his methods.

A ruthless selector and demander of standards, Schmidt is able to keep his message fresh and his charges on their toes. Some coaches have a shelf-life, but there is no sense that the New Zealander's is coming to an end.

It is not a decision he will take lightly, with family the first consideration as he contemplates his next step.

"I would want my family to be happy," he said when asked what it would take for him to stay.

"That has got to be a priority for anyone in a job, because I am kept pretty happy pretty easily, being able to work with the quality of the people that I work with, so from that perspective, it is incredibly positive.

"My family obviously extends beyond my immediate family. And there is some lingering doubt about being so far away, but I tend to be able to get back once a year and that is pretty precious time to get back and enjoy the rest of the family.

"Any time I have thought about it, I have stopped myself thinking about it.

"I have said, 'Just get on with the job in hand and when you get to the end of November, give yourself a couple of weeks not to linger too much over it, but just to make a decision'.

"There will be times when I lapse and think about it briefly, and I think that is important as well, just so I can try to be definitive when the time comes."

All good things come to an end, and Schmidt will leave at some point, but after presiding over the most successful period in Irish rugby history, there is a desire from one side to continue the relationship.

Whether the other party can be convinced remains to be seen, but there is hope.

First, though, there is the small matter of a series decider that is occupying his mind as he looks to make more history.

It will take, he says, the best performance of the season, but that's what he keeps demanding. And that is why the union are desperate to keep him.

Ireland team

Ireland team to play Australia: R Kearney (Leinster), K Earls (Munster), R Henshaw (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Stockdale (Ulster), J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), J McGrath (Leinster), S Cronin (Leinster), T Furlong (Leinster), D Toner (Leinster), J Ryan (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster), P O'Mahony (Captain, Munster), J Conan (Leinster).

Replacements: N Scannell (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), J Ryan (Munster), T Beirne (Scarlets), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht), R Byrne (Leinster), J Larmour (Leinster).

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