'His job is not done' - Schmidt motivated for the final chapters with Ireland

The 2019 World Cup will be Schmidt’s final hurrah as the national team head coach.

THE REAL SURPRISE in this morning’s announcement of Joe Schmidt’s departure from Ireland after next year’s World Cup was that the Kiwi will “finish coaching” at that time.

Wording is always important and this does not indicate an intention to retire fully from rugby, but Schmidt is certainly going to take a step away for a while at least.

Joe Schmidt celebrates winning with Rob Kearney Schmidt celebrates the 2016 victory over the All Blacks with Rob Kearney. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

As he promised would be the case, his family have come first and Schmidt is ready to invest his time in supporting his loved ones as best he can after they have made sacrifices for him over the past decade and longer.

In Schmidt’s own words, he will “prioritise family commitments” and that intention will likely be respected by everyone, even the most bitterly dejected of Ireland supporters.

One wonders how long Schmidt will be able to stay away from rugby, even as he remains true to his word to prioritise his family. Back home in New Zealand, the phone calls and messages asking for a bit of help will likely come from all quarters.

They might come from further afield too and even a job such as the Lions in 2021 might be of interest to the 53-year-old. 

Whatever may be the case about his future involvement with rugby, Schmidt will have earned a breather by the time next year’s World Cup concludes.

Indeed, that tournament in Japan will occupy much of Schmidt’s brainpower over the next 11 months, the closing chapters in his time as Ireland head coach.

Famous – perhaps notorious – for his work rate, Schmidt is likely to be even more relentless and focused for this long farewell, desperate as he will be to conclude with more success.

In confirming his decision today, Schmidt stressed that there are “inspiring challenges” ahead and even on Saturday evening, when he was hinting of what was to come, the Ireland boss underlined that this announcement is far from the end.

Joe Schmidt ahead of the game Schmidt will be more focused than ever in the next 11 months. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It’s massive,” said Schmidt of the next 11 months. “We’ve got the two biggest tournaments we play.

“We’ve got the Six Nations where we’re the defending champs and the World Cup where we’re certainly not the defending champs because we haven’t got past the quarter-finals and we’d love to do that.”

IRFU performance director David Nucifora served the reminder today too, interrupting his glowing praise for what Schmidt has done for Irish rugby to underline that big challenges lie ahead.

“More importantly now, his job is not done and the next 11 months through to the World Cup, you won’t see any changes there to how motivated and how hard he and the other coaches are going work to get success for Irish rugby,” said Nucifora.

Nothing will energise Schmidt more than the prospect of making history with Ireland at the World Cup, just as nothing in his tenure with Ireland has hurt more than the quarter-final exit against Argentina in 2015.

Next year’s Six Nations is pivotal in its own right, of course, and will be fiercely contested, but even if Ireland slip in their Grand Slam defence, it is unlikely to be viewed as a major failure.

Not getting beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup, on the other hand, would probably go down as exactly that, even if the prospect of facing either South Africa and New Zealand in the last eight is almost certain.

Part of the pain of 2015 was that Schmidt possibly felt a little powerless, having lost Paul O’Connell, Johnny Sexton, Jared Payne, Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien to injury or suspension.

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Joe Schmidt dejected after the game The 2015 defeat to Argentina still hurts. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The efforts to build depth since that dark day have clearly been extremely successful, feeding into the excellence of Ireland in recent years under Schmidt – whose overall winning ratio with Ireland stands at 74%.

At this stage, it feels like Ireland will go into the World Cup better positioned to challenge than ever, but that has been said more than once in the past only to result in similarly disappointing outcomes.

Ireland’s confidence levels are at an all-time high and having beaten the All Blacks twice since the last World Cup, as well as securing a Grand Slam, the belief has major credence and foundation. 

As ever, Schmidt will have his side as well prepared as anyone. Though he already works tirelessly and there aren’t many hours left in the day for him to mine into, the Ireland boss will be insatiable in his efforts to arm his players with the knowledge that can help them win.

Of course, even if the World Cup doesn’t work out with a semi-final, final or even a trophy success, Schmidt’s time here will be remembered with deep fondness.

He has transformed the sport of rugby in Ireland with his leadership, intellect and popularity, and will leave behind a legacy that should make life easier for successor Andy Farrell and everyone else involved in the process of moving on.

Going out on a disappointing note at the World Cup would likely haunt Schmidt, but he is better-qualified and harder-working than anyone to ensure that this story has a happy ending.

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Murray Kinsella

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