• Switch Edition
Follow
ESPNscrum Columnist
Hugh Farrelly | Columnist Index
Hugh Farrelly is a journalist based in Dublin and has been contributing to ESPNscrum.com since 2009.
Irish Rugby
About Schmidt
Hugh Farrelly
May 2, 2013
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt barks some instructions, Leinster v Cardiff Blues, Heineken Cup quarter-final, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland, April 7, 2012
Ireland's new coach - Joe Schmidt - has tasted success everywhere he has worked © Getty Images
Enlarge

In late September 2010, a small gathering of media assembled in Leinster's Donnybrook training base for the scheduled early week conference.

These tend to be routine affairs, a handful of fringe players and an assistant coach rolled out to provide a platter of injury updates, analysis of the most recent result and standard-issue observations about being 'under no illusions' with regards to their next opponents.

Thus, when Brian O'Driscoll and head coach Joe Schmidt strode through the door on that crisp morning two and a half years ago, a ripple of shock went around the room. These were hard hitters for what was supposed to be a soft soap affair.

The reason behind Leinster wheeling out their main men was to present a united front in response to some hysterical coverage in the days following the province's defeat in Edinburgh - their third in the province's first four league matches, including an awful loss away to Treviso.

In the modern era of sports desks frantically attempting to grab attention in the face of increasing online competition, there had been pieces written to order suggesting Leinster's new coach was 'out of his depth' in his first head role, while a relatively harmless Schmidt quote about the need to raise performance had been translated into a scathing attack on Leinster players by a coach under pressure.

O'Driscoll was present that day to provide visual and verbal evidence of the players' unequivocal support for the New Zealander and to categorically state that there was no 'crisis' - merely a need for patience as Schmidt bedded in.

And so it proved.

From that point on, starting with a hard-fought 13-9 victory over Munster the following weekend, the Leinster-Schmidt relationship blossomed beautifully, incorporating back-to-back Heineken Cups and now the prospect of an Amlin Challenge Cup/PRO12 double.

That bumpy start and premature reaction to Schmidt's Leinster tenure has been conveniently forgotten and, since Declan Kidney's reign as Ireland coach concluded, the media have been falling over themselves in their haste to coronate a man they once excoriated for being below par.

That process was concluded last Monday and the response to Schmidt taking control of the national side has been almost universally positive.

So what can we expect from Ireland's new man and what can he expect as he takes on one of the top jobs in world rugby?

Style

Although there were definite moves towards an expansive approach this season, notably in the wins over Argentina and Wales, Kidney's Ireland were not capturing public imagination and it was clear the national side had fallen behind the provincial franchises in terms of allure.

This carried knock-on, financial consequences and, while Kidney's situation was not helped by a crippling injury situation that threw the spotlight on the IRFU's conditioning processes, filling empty seats in Lansdowne Road assumed top priority.

Schmidt's sides play with an off-loading panache that is both easy on the eye and productive in constructing tries to woo punters, convincing the IRFU that this is a field of dreams appointment - if you build it they will come.

Adjustment

In the era of the director of rugby, Schmidt harks back to the 'whistle on twine' days of coaching yore and is very much a hands-on operator who loves nothing more than getting out on the pitch and imparting knowledge.

The day-to-day duties at Leinster scratched that itch but Ireland is a different matter where exposure to the players comes in condensed, intense periods around November internationals, the Six Nations and summer tours.

With this reduction in coaching time, Schmidt has to guard against the dangers of overloading his charges while he also now finds himself in the poacher-turned-gamekeeper role of needing to bring the provincial coaches around to his way of thinking.

However, this extra down time was also a crucial factor in Schmidt taking the Ireland job. He spoke movingly on national television recently about finding time to take care of his young son, who suffers from frequent epileptic fits, and now he has it.

Personnel

Unlike touted early contenders from Super Rugby, Schmidt understands the way rugby works in Ireland, dating back to his time with Mullingar as an up-and-coming coach in the 1990s.

It reduces the fact finding process for, as well as intimate knowledge of the talent in Leinster, frequent exposure to the other provinces at senior, academy and underage levels means the Kiwi has a broad grasp of the international potential across the country.

And there is talent there, as evidenced by the presence of nine Irish Lions for this summer's tour despite a poor Six Nations. While icons of the calibre of Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy and Paul O'Connell are in the twilight of storied careers, Schmidt's presence could extend their influence while youngsters such as Ian Madigan, Simon Zebo, Luke Marshall, Iain Henderson, Dave Kicoyne and Robbie Henshaw provide genuine optimism for the future.

There is also the issue of his backroom team and, whoever ends up in the ancillary roles, it is essential that there are no trade-offs or impositions here and that everyone on the ticket buys into the Schmidt way. This is the first serious challenge for the new man, particularly in relation to members of the previous regime such as Les Kiss (interim coach for the summer tour to North America) and Anthony Foley.

© Getty Images
Enlarge

Public Relations

Schmidt has a personable manner which makes for an easy relationship with media and supporters. However, there is a flinty edge to his make-up that will also stand to him, as we saw with recent forthright opinions in the O'Connell 'Kick-gate' controversy.

However, having grown accustomed to a close, supportive media in previous roles, there were issues during his time at Leinster with reportage that did not meet his expectations of what was best for the province, such as the leaking of team and injury news.

Under the intense scrutiny of the international spotlight, those frustrations are now set to increase and it is up to Schmidt and the IRFU not to allow outside influences affect focus.

Goals

The pitfalls of extending contracts beyond World Cup cycles were borne out by the unsatisfactory post-tournament experiences of Kidney (and Eddie O'Sullivan before him) so the fact Schmidt's deal takes him up to the conclusion of the 2016 Six Nations was something of a surprise.

Six Nations success and a first win over the All Blacks would be wonderful for a national side that has largely failed to live up to the progress of their provinces since 2000 but, while there are numerous corollary ambitions to pursue, the major goal facing Schmidt is to bring Ireland to a place they have never been - the semi-final of a World Cup.

Prognosis

We have come a long way with Schmidt since that defining media conference in 2010 and, all things considered, this looks to be an extremely positive move for Irish rugby.

Ireland have secured one of the most highly regarded coaches in the world game and a man who has tasted success wherever he has worked. That much is established and, even if Schmidt goes through another rocky opening (with Samoa, Australia and New Zealand representing an incredibly tough November baptism), you suspect there will be more patience extended this time around.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Live Scores
Results
Fixtures