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Schmidt's book offers insight into coaching values but has few World Cup answers

Ordinary Joe includes some poignant human passages.

ANYONE HOPING FOR a deep-dive into why the 2019 World Cup went wrong for Ireland in Joe Schmidt’s new book, Ordinary Joe, is going to be left disappointed.

While the book – published by Penguin and released this morning – does include a diary section covering the tournament in Japan, there is little room for reflection on why Ireland suffered a shock defeat to the hosts and then exited after being hammered by New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

It’s not until the very final stages of the 327-page book that Schmidt briefly considers what went wrong, touching upon what he mentioned in the post-match press conference after that New Zealand game – that Ireland became too focused on the World Cup from too far out, failing to prioritise the 2019 Six Nations.

joe-schmidt-walks-down-through-the-crowd-after-the-game Schmidt salutes fans after Ireland's defeat to New Zealand. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt adds that “there’s a danger in becoming too focused on delivering one-off performances at the end of four-year cycles” and that’s essentially it in terms of a World Cup review.

So anyone planning to fork out €25 for a detailed review of the final year of Schmidt’s otherwise successful reign might be better off buying themselves a few pints and continuing to theorise with their fellow rugby addicts.

Schmidt doesn’t delve into team selection, senior players’ form, the nature of Ireland’s build-up to the World Cup, their style of play, the mental hurdle of quarter-finals, or other factors that have been widely discussed in the wake of his team’s performances in Japan, which followed a poor Six Nations campaign.

Instead, the World Cup diary includes passages about Schmidt chasing a spider out of his room at a team hotel in Japan and the revelation that he attempted to have their pool game with Samoa called off early due to the poor quality of the pitch in Fukuoka.

In discussing his squad selection and the shock omission of Devin Toner, Schmidt details how Ireland worried about the Leinster lock being cited for a shoulder-to-head shot in the warm-up game against Wales and possibly banned as a result, which doesn’t feel like the whole story.

All of this said, it is true that Schmidt would have had little time for any self-reflection after the World Cup before his final draft was needed by Penguin in order to get the book out for the Christmas market.

Perhaps this book would have dug deeper into the World Cup underperformance had it come out next year, or perhaps Schmidt will discuss 2019 with Ireland in further depth in a later book.

Ordinary Joe is split into three sections, beginning with his youth, teaching career, and early coaching days in New Zealand. Part two offers insight into his coaching values and beliefs, while the third part is a diary of the 2018 Grand Slam and this year’s World Cup. 

ireland-v-russia-pool-a-2019-rugby-world-cup-kobe-misaki-stadium There are some poignant human passages in the book. Source: Adam Davy

Schmidt is the third of eight children of a district nurse and a postmaster, and we learn new things about his upbringing, with an incident of corporal punishment by a teacher for whispering to a friend at school detailed in length.

Rather revealingly, Schmidt writes that he “absorbed the lesson that I had to take responsibility for the choice I made but, even now, when something happens that seems unjust, it frustrates me and tends to linger more than it should.”

There are other poignant human aspects to this book, perhaps most notably when he receives a card from his mother, who passed away before the World Cup, on the morning of the quarter-final.

The card has “a message she wrote when she realized that she wasn’t going to live long enough to see the World Cup.

“She wrote that she was ‘so proud of what you have achieved but even more proud of what you have become’.”

There is also the harrowing account of his son, Luke, having a bad reaction after changing his diet in a bid to help his epilepsy. 

These are flashes of insight into Schmidt’s life away from rugby, which supporters will appreciate, but he doesn’t dwell on them for too long as he turns back to the next challenge on the pitch. 

Due to being split into three very different sections, this is not a straightforward autobiography as such and big episodes in his career such as the 2015 World Cup appear only in fleeting mentions in relation to other topics.

irelands-head-coach-joe-schmidt-during-the-training Part two of Schmidt's book is perhaps the most insightful.

One of those subjects is the media, with Schmidt dedicating a chapter to his frustrations in this domain during his time with Leinster and Ireland. He does not name individuals but points the finger at several publications and unnamed pundits over what he feels was unfair criticism or commentary.

Schmidt appears to have particular frustrations with the Joey Carbery saga, insisting that the player himself “asked if it was possible to shift to Munster”.

Many readers will enjoy the second part of Schmidt’s book most, with the title page ‘Ball in Play’ promising “thoughts, reflections, experiences and learnings, based on thirty years of teaching and coaching.”

What follows is an intriguing 127-page outline of exactly that, with Schmidt focusing chapters on mindset, leadership, and some of the “Big Rocks” of his coaching philosophy.

This section will be particularly interesting for any coaches or leaders, although there is surely plenty held back with Schmidt set for a return to the world of coaching next year following a break from the game.

However, some readers will find it jarring that Schmidt uses a quote from Irish rugby sponsor Vodafone Ireland to tee up the ‘Identity’ chapter.

“Who we are is how we play” is a catchy statement but using a sponsor’s slogan alongside the many literary quotations that the clearly well-read Schmidt cites will bemuse some people.

Part two of the book does gives insight into some of the things that made Schmidt such a success in Ireland as he guided Leinster to three Heineken Cups, a Challenge Cup, and a Pro12 title, before taking over the national team and earning a Grand Slam, two other Six Nations titles, a series success in Australia and two wins over the All Blacks.

That extensive success has been somewhat forgotten in the aftermath of another poor World Cup for Ireland, but Ordinary Joe gives us glimpses into the man behind those glories. 

Schmidt wrote this book himself, according to Penguin, and while it’s hard to escape the thought that an experienced ghostwriter might have brought it all together in a more cohesive manner, the fact that he found time to do so amidst the manic hours of his job with Ireland and the everyday stresses of family life seems typical of a man whose work ethic can never be questioned.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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