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He's seen everything: Joe Schmidt says Felix Jones' South Africa switch puts Ireland in an 'awkward' position

Switch: Felix Jones has taken a coaching role with South Africa, Ireland’s potential quarter-final opponents
Switch: Felix Jones has taken a coaching role with South Africa, Ireland’s potential quarter-final opponents
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

During his time in Irish Rugby, the ever meticulous Joe Schmidt has been a man oft-described as forensic when it comes to attention to detail, a master of controlling every controllable aspect of his team's preparations.

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It was always safe to assume then, that this week's announcement that former Munster attack coach Felix Jones would be joining his former Thomond Park boss Rassie Erasmus and the Springboks ahead of the World Cup would create some unease.

Yesterday the Kiwi left little doubt.

Jones was brought by Schmidt to Japan on tour two seasons ago as a coach and, although four years ago now, was a player in Schmidt's camps right up until his injury-enforced retirement.

With a quarter-final between the two sides a live possibility, the sight of a formerly trusted insider in the opposition box is enough to give a man like Schmidt sleepless nights.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist," he said when asked to clarify a previous comment that the hire put Ireland in an awkward position.

"He came with us to Japan the last time, so he was right in amongst us. So you don't have to ask really, do you?

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"He was with us, he's seen everything that we deliver and would have a great knowledge of even the language we use in our camp, so it's awkward for us.

"There were a couple of opportunities here, but I'd be a massive fan of what Felix has got to offer in the future, and it will be a great learning experience for him.

"I just hope that we don't suffer as a consequence because he's a smart coach, he already knows a lot about us and if we do get to a quarter-final it has to be either New Zealand or South Africa or Italy that we do play against. That would mean he could be directly opposite us on the coaching bench."

With no disrespect to the remainder of the teams in the pool, it's always seemed Ireland progression will see them meet either South Africa or New Zealand.

Given the Boks' recent resurgence, including a draw with New Zealand and a Rugby Championship crown this summer, there had been a growing murmur among some that Ireland would be better off facing the back-to-back champs in the last eight, a side they've beaten on two of the last three tries compared to one tailor-made to play the power game that has seen England gain such an advantage in two meetings during 2019.

Ireland will have a good idea who'll top Pool B before their own campaign even kicks off given that the Springboks and All Blacks meet 24 hours before they take on Scotland but, unsurprisingly, Schmidt confirmed his side are out to win their pool whoever that may entail meeting in the knock-outs.

"It wouldn't affect our focus," he said. "One of the advantages is if you win your pool, Pool A, you play on the Sunday, not the Saturday, and we play later. I think South Africa would probably have a 10 or maybe an 11-day break between their last pool game and that quarter-final, so either way you want to give yourself as much time.

"Whoever wins that first game will have a degree of control in Pool B, so they will be able to manage their players, and it happened to us the last time. Ten of Argentina's starters against us didn't play in their last pool match, so they had this fresh influx of players on the upswing. We came off a French game that we found really, really physical.

"So all those components come into it and all you can do is try to have as much control over what's in front of you.

"I can't control what Jonesy does. Those days are gone. Once he played full-back for me and I had a little bit of influence but even that, having coached him, he's a champion player, a champion bloke and I think he's going to be a really good coach.

"I just hope he delays that by a couple of months and is pretty average for the next two months. That would be good."

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