Another new contract on the eve of a Rugby World Cup, but Schmidt deal is excellent business

The IRFU have made a habit of handing out rewards before the big show, but The Joe Show is a different beast.

FOR THE CYNICS and pessimists among us, beginning a third consecutive Rugby World Cup campaign with a ringing endorsement for a third new coach will bring a foreboding sense of déjà vu.

In August 2007, Eddie O’Sullivan put pen to paper on a deal to keep him in charge of Ireland until the end of the 2012 Six Nations. He was out the door in the spring of 2008.

Declan Kidney and Eddie O'Sullivan after beating Australia Kidney and O'Sullivan celebrate Ireland's win over Australia in 2002. Source: INPHO

Four years ago today, Declan Kidney was promised the reins until 2013. The World Cup campaign went well, until it stopped going well in the usual place and Kidney ended up presiding over a side that stumbled over the last few legs of his contract term.

Is it naive to say this time will be different? It certainly feels completely different.

Though it is merely the one-year extension that has been officially confirmed by the IRFU, Ireland should celebrate every minute. Things were good in the times before RWC ’07 and RWC ’11, but it’s impossible to argue they had a patch on the fervour surrounding Irish rugby today.

In Joe Schmidt’s two years as Ireland head coach he has delivered success almost without precedent. Leave aside almost beating New Zealand (plenty have done that), Schmidt has won 16 of his 20 Tests in charge, delivering Ireland’s first back-to-back Six Nations Championship wins in 66 years along the way.

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Joe Schmidt Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The style of his team hasn’t always matched up to some of the more optimistic expectations. Yet whether displaying the philosophy on show in Paris or Murrayfield these past two Marches, or imposing a reductive kick-and-chase plan to negate more powerful sides, Schmidt has found a way to rack up an 80% win record and push the green jerseys to third in the World Rugby rankings. And few have popped a head over the parapet to say we don’t belong there.

Schmidt’s success on the pitch is down to his micro-management off it. Time and again we’ve heard the words ‘attention to detail’ from Irish internationals. Some say it wearily, as if they’re just beginning to have confidence built back up after a deconstruction, others say it with wide eyes because they have discovered new levels to the game.

Robbie Henshaw and Jordi Murphy Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

That’s what makes the difference with the positivity surrounding the Kiwi’s new deal. Though players are the ones who must cross the white line and put in the tackles, kicks and carries that make the difference, Schmidt appears to be empowering more and more young men to do so.

The 49-year-old provides a tough learning curve, but also the tools players need to be successful at the top echelon of the game. In years past, Irish teams tended to rely on on-field personalities and the individual skill of a shallow pool. It was exciting, but it ultimately sent the team spinning from manic highs to heartbreaking lows. Under Schmidt, the framework is firmly in place.

Don’t think of it as déjà vu. More, please!

– First published 16.19

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Sean Farrell

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