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Milton Haig has taken Georgians to a whole new level

Milton Haig
Milton Haig

By Donnchadh Boyle

"What about Joe Schmidt? He seemed very good."

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It seems like a huge understatement now but those were the words that helped Ireland's lauded head coach get on the coaching ladder.

They were uttered by Milton Haig, the Georgian's Kiwi head coach, and the man who was Vern Cotter's right-hand man before Schmidt was handed the gig.

In the early 2000s Cotter and Haig had been coaching at Bay of Plenty in New Zealand but Haig's job meant the pair were forced to go their separate ways. Before he left, Haig ensured his position was filled with the right man.

"Vern and I had been coaching at Bay of Plenty and Joe is from the same area as I am," Haig recalls.

"We were looking for someone to replace me because my newspaper work was moving me. I don't know if it was his big break but it was the first provincial gig he had in New Zealand.

"We were looking for someone but we didn't know anyone and Joe had come in and done a session earlier in the year.

"We just said: 'what about Joe Schmidt? He seemed really good.'

"When he came in and did a session for our boys, that was in 2002 and he was smart. He had a really good way about his coaching style. He used questions a lot, which was good. He was coaching schoolboy only at that stage."

The pair have taken very different paths since then. Schmidt's career has been well documented and Haig pursued his work in newspapers. But as the job offers in rugby became more frequent he eventually took the plunge.

Georgia came looking for a Kiwi to coach their side and the NZRU put his name forward for the job. Three years on, he's considering extending his stay.

They've made progress too. In Europe, they are the best of the rest having won the European Nations Cup earlier this year. More than 55,000 people watched them hammer Russia.

Naturally, the Georgians have a particular relish for beating Russia but even at less high-profile games they can expect a crowd of around 25,000.

"It has grown, but if you play tiddlywinks against Russia in Tbilisi, you'll pack it out. But the game is growing," said Haig.

"When we played Romania in a qualifier, we had 28,000 people and the stadium was packed."

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