Dan Sheridan/INPHO Schmidt speaking with Gatland when he visited Ireland training as Lions coach.
# BFFs
'He’s probably more outspoken than I am': Schmidt braced for battle with former team-mate Gatland
The outgoing head coaches have been rivals and team-mates as players and meetings between them have rarely been one-sided.

JOE SCHMIDT INSISTS he has a ‘pretty friendly relationship’ with his compatriot Warren Gatland as the two head coaches prepare to pit their title-chasing sides against eachother on Saturday.

Certain shots across the bows might have led you to believe otherwise; from Gatland’s 2015 critique, “I don’t think Ireland play a lot of rugby”, right up to Schmidt’s reminder yesterday of the sprinkler put to use under the Cardiff roof in 2017.

As Kiwi Grand Slam-winners the pair have also naturally come into the discussion when big jobs became available. Indeed, Schmidt turned down the offer from Gatland to be a part of the coaching ticket for the 2017 Lions tour of their homeland. When it comes to succeeding Steve Hansen as All Blacks boss, Schmidt has ruled himself out of the running by signalling he will “finish coaching” after the World Cup.

“I’ve never been a rival to him for the Lions or New Zealand jobs,” Schmidt countered when asked about Gatland yesterday.

“But I’ve been a rival on the pitch, playing against Waikato when he was playing for Waikato and I was playing for Manawatu. I’ve played with him in a schools selection. I’ve played a fair bit with his brother-in-law Clifton Shaw, Trudi’s brother.”

“So I’ve gotten to know him over the years and we’d have a pretty friendly relationship.

“You know, he’s probably more outspoken than I am. That doesn’t worry me really.

“He would probably engage in a bit more pre-match banter than I would, and again that’s his domain.”

Schmidt continues to eagerly underline how little issue he takes with Gatland’s infamous mind games played out through the media, saying he is happy to bow to the greater experience of the man two years his senior.

“He’s been with Wales twice as long as I’ve been with Ireland. I think you earn that opportunity.

“He certainly is the longest-serving head coach in world rugby because Steve Hansen’s done eight years. He’s earned that opportunity to be a bit more outspoken.

“Internally, we drive our own agenda and we drive our own motivation. It doesn’t really impact too much on us.”

James Ryan and Ultan Dillane James Crombie / INPHO James Ryan, who will call the line-out this weekend, getting to grips with his maul defence. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The impacts will all come in very physical form from 2.45 on Saturday then.

Though Wales are a win away from a Grand Slam, they have not threatened to run up a score on anyone. So Saturday is set to be another incredibly tight installment of this feisty rivalry.

“I think it’s one of those things that will likely be a very close, competitive match again,” said Schmidt when asked what he expected to unfold tomorrow.

“The same sort of combative, competitive battle that you always get with Wales.”

It’s not the same, of course, there is a Grand Slam on the line. Schmidt points out the similar situation he was in this time last year, with the big difference being that he had complete the feat in Twickenham.

“It does add a little ounce of energy and of real focus to what you’re doing because they’re rare,” Schmidt says of Grand Slams, and the games that decide them so often prove to be high-octane for both teams in involved, “what’s rare is a beautiful thing. Even more rare for us because we’ve only had three of them.”

He is asked how he has worked to create that energy and focus for this Test, but Schmidt again nods to the players. It’s an age-old rivalry for them and the neighbouring nations. He and Gatland have only been locking horns for a few decades.

“You never manufacture anything. It’s organic, it’s what they want to deliver and they’re driven as well.

“They’ll definitely want to deliver a really positive performance. They want to finish the way they would have liked to have started, with the right amount of energy, with the right amount of focus that we can put Wales under pressure sufficiently well that we can get those fine margins to fall our way and get the result that we need.”

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey on The42 Rugby Weekly as Ireland bid to spoil Wales’ Grand Slam party in Cardiff, and the U20s target their own piece of history.

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