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Lions and All Blacks jobs loom behind 2017 expiry of Schmidt's contract

What’s next in line for the Ireland head coach?

WHEN THE HAPPINESS around a new contract for Joe Schmidt dies down, we’re left looking at what is essentially a one-season extension.

It’s exciting to have convinced the New Zealander to stay in Ireland for a while longer, no doubt about that, but Schmidt has certainly kept his options open by naming the summer of 2017 as the new ending point of his contract.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt provides his autograph at an open training session in Galway earlier this month. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Realistically speaking, the IRFU would have been thrilled to tie Schmidt down for longer. In their own words, he is “one of the leading coaches in world rugby.”

The former Leinster boss’ negotiating position was lofty.

So what exactly does Schmidt have in mind for 2017? Where will the next step in his so-far superb coaching career lead him?

Unfortunately, getting inside Schmidt’s head is far from easy.

Back in May, before a contract extension had been announced, we asked Schmidt if he felt the lure of his native New Zealand. Schmidt swatted the question aside and ended up telling us about De La Salle Palmerstown’s special needs tag team.

There’s plenty the Woodville-born guru keeps close to his chest. That said, it would only be natural if he does envision himself eventually being back in New Zealand coaching.

The Lions tour in 2017 is one that stands out firmly in the list of options for Schmidt. New Zealanders have been in charge of two of the four most recent tours, demonstrating that the famous combined side has no issues with a Kiwi leading them.

Warren Gatland was accommodated in stepping back from his Wales job for the 2013 Six Nations in order to prepare himself for that year’s Lions tour to Australia. If Schmidt’s hope and intention is indeed to lead the Lions, he may have to secure an early release from this IRFU deal.

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Joe Schmidt Schmidt is highly respected around the rugby world. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The odds on Schmidt being appointed as head coach have shortened today, but Gatland remains a strong contender. He led the Lions to a series success over the Wallabies two years ago, although there was grief over their style of rugby in many quarters.

One senses that assistant coaching days are well behind the strong-minded Schmidt, while a pairing of Gatland and himself doesn’t quite figure.

Another major job potentially becomes available in 2017, when Steve Hansen’s contract with the All Blacks ends following the Lions tour. Having been in charge since late 2011, it makes sense that ‘Shag’ would make way for fresh coaching blood at that point.

Here in Ireland, it is regularly presumed that Schmidt will be firmly in contention for the position, while a strong performance from Ireland at the World Cup would certainly improve his standing even further back in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s playing base is ridiculously deep, but their coaching stocks are similarly strong, meaning Schmidt would have some valid competition if he were to target the All Blacks gig. The likes of Dave Rennie will have their own ambitions.

Sources in New Zealand suggest that Schmidt may even need to ‘prove’ himself by leading one of the Kiwi franchises in Super Rugby before graduating to the All Blacks set-up. Again, a strong World Cup outing this year might negate that step, if it exists at all.

Ireland, of course, remain a player in all of this and if Schmidt keeps the national side motoring along at the current rate, while also continuing to influence the entire rugby nation, the IRFU’s eagerness to keep him in situ will only increase.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt is hoping to guide Ireland to success at the World Cup. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Family life in Ireland has been good to the Schmidt clan, according to the Ireland coach himself. He underlined his appreciation for the “support” the IRFU has shown him in today’s statement, something he appears to genuinely feel.

Schmidt’s son, Luke, suffers from epilepsy and the family travelled to Australia after this year’s Six Nations triumph to seek specialist treatment for that condition. Those factors are certainly part of the picture in Schmidt’s long-term decision making.

For now, the future is unclear, though one gets the feeling that Schmidt, so famed for his detailed planning, has it well mapped out.

Irish rugby will simply enjoy having one of the finest coaches in the world in charge of the rugby nation’s fortunes until 2017 at least.

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

Joe Schmidt has signed a new contract with the IRFU

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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