Doubtless many of our readers saw the notes taken by an anonymous scribe from a recent Joe Schmidt seminar which found themselves ‘going viral’, as it were, yesterday afternoon. If you didn’t, you can see them here.
It made for fascinating reading, an insight into the workings of one of the great coaches in modern sport. Anyone who witnessed Joe Schmidt’s talk to Leinster fans in the Laighin Bar will know he’s a fascinating, charismatic and humourous guy who can easily command the attention of a room of punters. Whatever or wherever this seminar was, we wish we were there.
It’s abundantly clear from reading that Schmidt is a man whose eye for detail is unmatched, and his preparation meticulous. Every error in training is pulled up, and any that are missed are pulled up later from video analysis. Little wonder Brian O’Driscoll spoke of every single day being a learning experience with him as coach.
A few things struck us as especially interesting. One was the unwillingness to buy into ‘received wisdom’ or media-spun catch-all narratives, such as the all-conquering mental strength of the Indomitable All Blacks. His dissection of the two contrasting World Cup games against France was fantastic. Not for a second was he accepting that the Kiwis were in any way more composed or prepared for trench warfare in 2011 than in 2007; they got away with winning because the referee let them cheat the whole game. Anyone who watched that game will remember that they were allowed to not roll out of the tackle at almost every single ruck.
There was some nice insight into how he kept squad harmony at Leinster, with Eoin Reddan running the fines/punishments committee and a policy of every player shaking hands when they first meet each day, a tradition he brought over from Clermont (I thought the French kissed each other, but we’ll let it slide) and how Jamie Heaslip – who comes across as a
show pony influential figure – makes a point of shaking the hand of every single academy player.
What always struck us about Joe Schmidt is that he has a great sense of which buttons to press based on the prevailing mood. He describes how, no matter what has gone on earlier in the week, once it gets to Thursday everything he says to the players is positive. One Schmidt post-match interview in particular game always stood out in our minds. It was a match against Glasgow in Scotstoun in the Heineken Cup. Leinster played dreadfully, but an Isaac Boss touchdown against the base of a post and some good fortune defending the lead late in the match was enough to secure a narrow win. In the weeks before the game, a number of players had given interviews relaying just how tough Schmidt’s Monday morning video sessions were, and how players are accountable for every single action. But rather than berate this genuinely pretty awful performance, all he would say to the press was how proud he was of the group to have dug in to secure a really hard-fought win. It just seemed exactly the right note to strike; terrific management. Long may he remain in this country.
Will he though? Surely the BNZ hierarchy are watching, but equally as surely, success (domestic and international) in the Northern Hemisphere simply isn’t seen as adequate preparation for the BNZ job. While it’s tempting to see him as the obvious successor to Hansen after 2015, he might have to wait until further down the line. Anyone who read Ruchie’s book will get a keen sense of how insular (and we don’t mean that in a negative sense) rugger in BNZ is. If Schmidt wants to coach BNZ, as he must, he will have to do some time back home first. If he has his sights set on the 2019-23 RWC cycle, he will want to be heading home for the 2018 SH season, at the very latest, and probably earlier. That gives us about two years to enjoy the ride – anyone fancy minding the William Webb Ellis from 2015 for a couple of years?