JOE SCHMIDT WILL be a busy man over the next month as Ireland take on Italy, Argentina, New Zealand and USA.
The end of the November Tests usually signifies a chance for Schmidt to draw breath, but he will have another big job in December this year.
The Ireland head coach will sit down to decide on his future for after the 2019 World Cup, with his current contract due to expire following the global tournament next year.
Stay or go? We should have an answer from Schmidt by the end of the year.
The IRFU has been consistent in stressing its desire to see the Grand Slam-winning coach continue but the union believes that Ireland can continue to enjoy success even if Schmidt heads home to New Zealand or elsewhere.
“He’s done a fantastic job and it’s not just about Joe,” said IRFU CEO Philip Browne as the union launched its new strategic plan for 2018 to 2023.
“It’s about the people he has gathered around him as a collective, both in terms of the team management and their interaction with the high-performance department and their interaction with the provinces, and the quality of coaching and personnel that are now in the provinces.
“It is a collective and at times people, certainly outside of Irish rugby, don’t understand that. Joe is an important part of that collective and has done a fantastic job.
“At the end of the day, David [Nucifora] is having conversations with Joe until he makes up his mind and we will be thinking about it once the November internationals are under the belt.”
Irish rugby without the influence of Schmidt is strange to consider, such has been his impact in the country since 2010 with Leinster and then Ireland.
But Browne insisted that rugby success in Ireland is not based solely on one person.
“‘My father in his wisdom used to say, ‘Graveyards are full of people who thought they were indispensable.’
“The reality is that the plan can’t be built around one person, it has to be built around systems, processes and structures.”
The IRFU’s latest strategic plan aims to ensure those systems and structures are better than ever, producing more players to create more competition for places in the professional game and, therefore, even better performances.
The headline targets of the new plan are to get to the World Cup semi-finals or better in 2019 and 2023, as well as winning two or more Six Nations titles and being consistently ranked in the top three teams in the world over the next five years.
“We need to try and move beyond the quarter-finals,” said Browne of the World Cup goal. “I recall in 2007, we all sat around the table and we all thought it was going to be our year and it didn’t happen, for one reason or another.
“Hopefully, over the last 10, 11 years we have managed to address some of the problems that arose during that competition. We’re number two in the world so we have to have aspirations to get that far.”
Indeed, with Ireland currently flying so high, some will wonder why the latest strategic plan doesn’t state winning the World Cup as a clear target.
“We go out to win every match and that’s the reality,” said Browne. “But there is a base level, a benchmark that we want to achieve. The notion that we put it up on a piece of paper and we get to the semi-final and say, ‘Great, job done, let’s go off and have a party,’ that’s kind of naïve.
“The reality is our teams have aspirations, they have ambition, they are all professional players, professional coaches, they are not going to be satisfied unless they go out and try to win every fixture and that’s what happens.
“There’s no question that they go out and says, ‘Well, our strategic plan says we are going to be in the top three in the world and therefore we have to be satisfied with coming third.’
“You have interaction with the players, they’re not satisfied with losing any match, but it is a game of fine margins.”
– First published 01.00, 23 October
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