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Schmidt available to Lions but only interested in Ireland's Japan tour

Warren Gatland this week opened up the possibility of Schmidt joining his coaching staff.

JOE SCHMIDT HAS stressed his committment to leading Ireland’s tour of the USA and Japan next summer amidst renewed interest from the Lions.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland this week spoke about the possibility of Schmidt joining his coaching staff for the 2017 visit to New Zealand by revealing that the Ireland boss had become contractually available.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt has been with Ireland since 2013. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“There’s an opportunity there as well,” Gatland told the Daily Mail. “Joe has been absolutely fantastic for Clermont, Leinster and now Ireland.

“Achieving that result last weekend [against the All Blacks] was brilliant. There was uncertainty a while ago about what he was doing, but now he has made that commitment to Ireland until the next World Cup, so there is potential there.”

In January of this year, Schmidt had ruled himself out of contention for the Lions job due to the fact that his contract at that time would have prevented him from taking a year-long sabbatical.

Gatland went on to be re-appointed as head coach of the Lions, but Schmidt has since put pen to paper on a new IRFU contract that would allow him to take up an offer from the Lions.

It only has changed availability-wise because I have extended,” said Schmidt yesterday. “I didn’t decide to take up the option of a break clause at the end of June, so the contract was there anyway.

“It’s just that there was a break clause that I didn’t opt for. It meant that therefore I was [now] available.”

However, Schmidt distanced himself from any possible link-up with the Lions as part of Gatland’s coaching team, which is set to be officially announced on 7 December.

Ireland will travel to New York next summer to face the USA, before a two-Test trip to Japan, and Schmidt stressed that he will need to be part of that tour.

“A big part of the motivation for me not being involved in the Lions was to go to the USA and Japan and work with this next cadre of players,” said Schmidt. “Because the best of our players will go on the Lions, and the more the better.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt speaks at Carton House yesterday. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“That would be fantastic and hopefully a few of them put their hands up with Gats in the stadium [Soldier Field] on Saturday. But the ones that don’t go, that’s going to be a really interesting group for us and, for me, I want to make sure I get to know those guys.

“And getting away on tour is one of the best ways to do it. I thought even in South Africa, the three weeks we had, getting to know people was part of… you start to assess how much further development they’ve got, where the ceiling might be for them, and where the progress might extend out to.

So you’re always trying to make those decisions, but it’s hard to make those decisions if you’re not there.”

Gatland also spoke positively this week about the prospect of Andy Farrell joining his Lions coaching staff for next summer.

Englishman Farrell was the Lions defence coach in Australia in 2013, where he earned the respect of Irish players like Paul O’Connell, Jamie Heaslip and Johnny Sexton.

Ireland and Schmidt would have no reservations about Farrell heading to New Zealand with the Lions next summer.

“I’d be delighted if Andy went,” said Schmidt. “A, because I think he is a super coach and I think he does a fantastic job. And it also means that Andy will keep a bit of an eye on our guys.

“It’s certainly one collective but he will be able to give us a bit of feedback about how the guys were going there. So we will have both bases covered that way. So that would be quite nice from that perspective.

“Those are decisions that aren’t mine to make, so we’ll see how that goes.”

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