The Milky Bars Are On Him

We’re breaking from our customary summer sabbatical because an important bit of news broke yesterday. Joe Schmidt signed a contract extension to stay on as head coach until 2017. Hip hip! There were a couple of amusing red herrings in the announcement lead-up. Fangio reported that Schmidt’s extension was for eight years (eight!), and the presence of the Lions rugby handle on a Peter O’Reilly tweet had people speculating that Schmidt was being given the Lions gig a full two years in advance.

It seems to be now customary for the good people at the IRFU to extend the coaching ticket’s contract before – and not after – the world cup. It’s a double edged sword, and hasn’t necessarily worked out in the past, but also a tricky balancing act we can have some sympathy with. Renew the coach’s contract and it bears the hallmark of a reward before he’s even passed his exams; leave him hanging and the coach spends half the press conferences fielding questions about his future, and if things go well (heaven forbid!) he’s open to being whisked away by another paymaster.

The IRFU gave Eddie a whopping four-year contract before the 2007 World Cup, when his stock was at an all-time high following a stupendous autumn and a Six Nations lost only on points difference, only to see the bottom fall out of his team in the tournament itself. They appeared to learn by degrees and heading into 2011’s Grand Shindig they gave Kidney and his coaching team, which was held in high esteem to be fair, a mere two year extension. It looked a slightly dubious move, as Kidney’s coaching style and conservative selection was already looking its age, and his team were capable of mixing the good with the truly awful. The performance in the World Cup was a rollercoaster affair, starting and ending abysmally but with spectacular highs in the middle but after that the only way was down, and although Kidney hung on to see out his two year extension, his tenure fairly petered out.

On the face of it, the IRFU’s obvious concern in this case would appear to be Joe Schmidt leaving for his homeland nation, New Zealand. The Kiwi coach is universally admired and regarded as one of the best coaches in world rugby, and might be on the all-consuming rugby nation’s radar as a potential replacement should Steve Hansen decide to rest on his laurels after winning the World Cup later this year.  Schmidt was contracted until the end of the 2016 Six Nations, rather than the end of the World Cup, but that would be no huge barrier to him switching to New Zealand, where the Rugby Championship only kicks off in July.

In Ruchie’s (excellent) book, he talked at length about the huge premium BNZ put on players and coaches being at home, within the system – there is huge emphasis put on building structures, from school to club to Air BNZ Cup to Super Rugby to the <insert hackneyed colour-driven marketing tool team name here>. If you leave BNZ, you are out of the game. Deeeen Caddah got very special dispensation to spend six months on the medical couch in Perpignan, but Dingo Deans, who took the Wobbly job after being passed over for Graham Henry after RWC07, was told he could forget about the BNZ job forever if he left.

We’re not sure if BNZ would appoint a new coach direct from Northern Hemisphere rugby without a few years penance in Super Rugby – sure, Schmidt was assistant at the Blues ten years ago, but we suspect some lip service would need to be shown. Still, the IRFU would be foolish to bank on that, and the point stands – BNZ would look to bring him home at some point.

The new contract leaves Schmidt with the option to be brought home by the NZRU for the 2018 and 2019 SR seasons and take over BNZ after RWC19 – it’s called “succession planning” and will probably never work – but the Union are right to hedge against the less likely possibility of him being sniped right away.

So, for Ireland, three times a charm, then? Hopefully, and with back to back Six Nations under his belt and having appeared to solve the two most demanding riddles associated with this, and any, Ireland team: how to get them to perform to a consistent base level, and how to overcome their innate inability to beat France, Schmidt is surely set to oversee Ireland’s first properly decent World Cup attempt, and there appears no earthy reason why he can’t continue to excel beyond that.

It also leaves him free to take on the Lions Tour in New Zealand, should he be daft enough to take on what from this distance appears to be a tour that can only irreparably break the reputation of whoever chooses to take it on. Best leave that one to Wazza. After all, he did so well on the last tour and seems to enjoy the wretched thing, and if Schmidt does have ambitions to coach BNZ, best not to show them up too publicly.

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22 Comments

  1. Simon O'Keeffe

     /  July 23, 2015

    think youre right on the 2017 Lions tour, midweek games against Chiefs, Highlanders, Hurricanes are nasty so could be a bleak tour

    A lot of the players who would likely go on a tour tomorrow will be mid 30s by then, hooker, tighthead, blindside and both wings look like being problem positions on that tour

  2. Great news. All we need now are the final touches put on the new Leinster coaching ticket. Personally I couldn’t give a monkey’s about the Lions tour in 2017. Global methane gas eruptions could have us all wiped out before then. RWC 2015 is the main attraction now and Joe has his work cut out getting the Boys in Green in a position, where they can beat any of NZ, SA or Oz, who in recent weeks are all looking mighty dangerous. Before we even get that point there’s a litte matter of Les Francais… To paraphrase Joe’s own mantra: lets cross our bridges one at a time and not be getting ahead of ourselves. Reading the media, you’d think the perennial underachievers of world rugby are automatic to make the semis. I wouldn’t be so sure….

  3. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  July 23, 2015

    A peek inside the mind of mainstream meeja rugby scribe:

    Joe = 2015+2
    2015+2 = 2017
    2017 = Lions
    Joe = Lions
    Eureka!

    Other than the fact that he’d be nuts to want the Lions job, Joe would not (shock horror!) be remotely suitable for that role.
    ‘OK Joe, here’s your squad, you have four weeks to get them ready for the first test, and everybody needs roughly equal game time to get a fair crack of the whip. Now do your thang!’

    Muscle memory how are ya.
    Not how our Joe rolls.

    Two year extension is great news but hardly a surprise.

  4. ORiordan

     /  July 23, 2015

    I don’t disagree that the rugby media are adding up the years and getting the answer “Lions” but way the Ireland gig is run isn’t how Joe rolled when he was at Leinster either.

    Now Gatland stepped down as national coach some time (can’t remember how long exactly…) before the Lions tour leaving Wales with the Howleycaust as some there called it. If Schmidt did get the Lions gig, presumably he would do the same thing… with maybe Les Kiss in charge? The IRFU may not be averse to test driving Kiss as a national coach in case Joe tells the Lions travel arranger to book him a one way ticket…

    • Gatland stepped down as Wales boss for the entire 2012/2013 season, both autumn and 6 nations games (he ended up missing the 2012 summer tests too, but that was due to injury).

      So if Schmidt did the same he’d be missing for…. the entire length of the contract extension he just signed. And if Kiss took charge (temporarily? Schmidt’s Ireland contract would run out before his Lions one), then he’d be stepping down as Ulster coach less than a year after taking over, unless of course Ulster would be content for him to miss half the season, in his first, er, “full” season.

      • Peat

         /  July 23, 2015

        If Les Kiss wants it, and the IRFU want it, do Ulster have a choice?

        • Can you imagine the indignation if Munster had a coach for the summer, then they didn’t, then he came back a year later, then he was off to d’internationals again? Mind you (adjusts helmet, checks flak-jacket) what are the odds of a Munster coach being that in-demand?

  5. eatmypoint

     /  July 23, 2015

    Did you actually enjoy Ruchie’s book? Those long sections about his love of gliding bored me to the point of never finishing it.

  6. D6W

     /  July 24, 2015

    My initial reaction on hearing this news was, “Oh no, not again”, based purely on how badly things turned out the last two times we have done this, although I have more faith in Schmidt.

    As for the threat of losing him to NZ, taking off the green tinted glasses, surely Gatland’s international record would put him ahead of Schmidt for any vacancy. Unless he has blotted his copybook somehow with NZ rugby?

    • Presiding over such rank rugby and scraping a series win over the worst Wallaby team of the professional era two years ago surely put paid to that.

      • D6W

         /  July 24, 2015

        3x6N titles, 2 as Grand Slams, getting Wales to WC Semi-Final. His international CV is longer and, so far, more successful than Schmidt. Take point on style of play, but Schmidt style of play with Ireland not exactly exciting either (that said, Leinster were playing like BNZ in heyday). I dislike Gatland as much as any Irish fan for his crime against BOD, but unusually, this does not bother fans outside the green isle as much as it should.

        • Well – maybe we believe the bullshit marketing hype. Last season, BNZ kicked more than anyone – they were also the most clinical with ball in hand, if not necessarily the Harlem Globetrotters

          • Billy

             /  July 24, 2015

            Some objectivity please. Ireland have typically been horrendous to watch for the neutral for most of the last two seasons. It’s not just about kicking either.

            Not a big Gatland fan but the emphatic nature of the clinching win and the willingness to make big selection calls will surely have won him fans in the upper echelons of Lions mgmt. He is an excellent coach. Plus I could see Joe picking a 90% Irish Lions squad: Chris Henry in a Lions jumper – Jesus

          • seiko

             /  July 25, 2015

            Whats the connection with Bank of New Zealand (BNZ?

    • Peat

       /  July 26, 2015

      I don’t think either of them are particularly in contention unless they go back and coach in New Zealand first – and I don’t think New Zealand are too bothered about what the coach has done in international rugby either. They believe they have the talent if they give it a go and all that.

      But, if putting either against each other in terms of Lions or New Zealand, then while Gatland might have been longer at it and with more success, he’s also had more lows. Schmidt has become very successful very quickly and so far with staggering consistency. I don’t think Gatland’s ahead at all.

  7. Stephen

     /  July 25, 2015

    Several comments:

    Schmidt IS capable of coaching any style of rugby. With the human resources of the All
    Blacks behind him, he’d be as unstoppable as Leinster were in their pomp. With Ireland, with our players and playing in our climate, he plays a more conservative but ultimately winning rugby, whilst maintaining the ability (Italy ’14, Scotland ’15) to – productively – chuck it around.

    Schmidt is a far superior coach to Warren Gatland; 2 from 2 in 6Ns, and 14 from 18 in two years including victories over SA and Australia. In addition, the 4 losses have all been within 1 score.

    Finally, what is so infeasible about Chris Henry playing 7 for the Lions?

    • Billy

       /  July 29, 2015

      No doubt Joe is an exceptional coach but he has essentially done his four successful years out of five in the top seat with the same group of players. Gatland has done his over nearly 20 years with several different teams: Connacht, Ireland, Wasps, Waikato, Wales. The amount of silverware he has won is staggering.

      Joe has had some clangers in his time too; when Clermont beat Leinster at home, the two lost Rabo finals against Ospreys and Munster, Australia in his second game as Irish coach. In his last season he didn’t even manage to get Leinster out of their group – wouldn’t exactly call that unstoppable!

      I don’t think I’ll ever forgive Gatland for dropping BOD but Joe simply can’t compete in terms of longevity and consistency.

      Chris Henry as a Lion is a joke because he is a prime example of someone who people give the benefit of the doubt to because he seems like a lovely bloke but he shouldn’t be mistaken for a Lions standard flanker.

  8. D6W

     /  July 27, 2015

    On a completely seperate topic, but one which always comes up on this forum, did anyone see Israel Falau challenge on Argie #10? A clear cut taking out in the air, but when the Argentine captain asked why no yellow card, Poite replied “No, he came down safely”. So is it the case that despite the recklessness of a challenge on someone in the air, if they survive it, no sanction except penalty?

    • osheaf01

       /  July 29, 2015

      Poite’s honest answer would have been, “No, he’s Australian and you’re a Small Nation..”

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