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Dublin: 7°C Wednesday 12 May 2021

Schmidt: O'Connor's departure from Leinster was not my decision

The Ireland head coach distanced himself from any involvement in O’Connor’s exit.

JOE SCHMIDT SAYS he and the IRFU had no involvement in Matt O’Connor’s departure as head coach of Leinster.

O’Connor left the province last week by what Leinster termed “mutual consent”, whereafter it was suggested that the Australian’s dispute with the IRFU over the player management system had played a role in him exiting the position.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt led Ireland's captain's run at Thomond Park this afternoon. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In late April, Schmidt and IRFU performance director David Nucifora issued a sharp rebuttal of O’Connor’s complaints about so many of his key Leinster players being denied to him at key points in the course of a difficult season.

Four weeks later, O’Connor’s exit was announced. Indeed, it was suggested in some quarters that Schmidt was partly responsible for Leinster’s decision to part ways with O’Connor.

However, speaking in Thomond Park today ahead of Ireland’s clash with the Barbarians tomorrow, Schmidt rejected the notion.

“I was as surprised as anyone,” said Schmidt. “It’s not the IRFU’s decision, it’s purely a Leinster game board decision. That’s the autonomy they have, and that’s the decision they made.

So it’s totally independent of the IRFU.”

Regardless, the fact is that Schmidt and Nucifora felt it was necessary to publicly correct some of the inaccuracies in O’Connor’s protestations. It pointed to a relationship between national team coach and Leinster boss that wasn’t as cosy as it might have been.

Schmidt this afternoon underlined his belief that the link between national team and province is vital, and one he will look to solidify with the next Leinster head coach. He did admit that the strain is a natural part of the association.

“Those relationships are really important,” said Schmidt. “Everybody who is having to share resources at stages is going to be probably contesting where and when those resources are best utilised.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt will hope to build a strong working relationship with O'Connor's successor. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“And that’s part of the continual feedback that exists with the IRFU and the player management that I think is something that the provinces recognise as well.

“It’s certainly something that we were predicting we would be continuing with going forward and trying to be as positive as possible in that vein.”

Schmidt said he will be keeping a close eye on how Leinster proceed in their efforts to replace O’Connor ahead of next season, given that he has such a central interest.

The Kiwi did, however, say that he and the IRFU will play no part in the appointment process until the very end point, when performance director Nucifora will have to sign off on the new man’s contract, as is the case with all major player and coaching appointments in Ireland now.

I’ll be an interested observer, because in the end I’ll be working with that person and that person will obviously have a number of Irish international players,” said Schmidt.

“I think that’s something that, again, that’s their process, and we’ll find out when that process has gone through its full cycle and we’ve got someone at the end of it.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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