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Dublin: 5 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019
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21-year-old Tim Schmidt chasing the professional dream with Toulouse

Joe Schmidt’s son is having a fine season with the French club’s espoirs team.

WHEN TIM SCHMIDT was called up to senior squad training at Toulouse in November, there were a couple of faces that brought the 21-year-old back to his childhood in New Zealand.

The powerful back row Joe Tekori had been coached by Schmidt’s father, Joe, many years before in Auckland.

Tim Schmidt of Terenure clears the ball Schmidt in action for Terenure College back in 2014. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Meanwhile, 30-times capped All Black Luke McAlister had played under Joe at the Blues from 2004 until 2007, although he took a little time to actually recognise who Tim was.

“After the first training session, I was putting up a few high balls for our wing Arthur Bonneval to catch,” says Schmidt.

“Luke came over and asked if I’d put a few up for him as well, because he was playing fullback that weekend. Afterwards, I said, ‘It’s been while since a kicked a ball to you!’ and he just said, ‘What?’

“I introduced myself and he hadn’t even recognised me because it had been about 10 years. We had a good laugh about it.”

It is funny how things work out and Tim Schmidt has taken quite the route from being the kid who kicked balls to players at Blues training to being a promising part of the set-up at Toulouse.

Schmidt joined the club’s espoirs [under 23] team at the start of the season, having decided to move to the French city for Erasmus, the student exchange programme.

Now in the third year of a degree in International Business with French at DCU, Schmidt was keen to organise a good rugby team for his time in Toulouse, although he didn’t expect to be linking up with the four-time European champions.

However, having played for Leinster at U18, U19 and U20 levels, Schmidt has a fine rugby CV and he was helped by a few important people in his search for the right club.

“We had some friends down in Cork who would have been on tours with Trevor Brennan; he did all those trips following Ireland and the Lions,” says Schmidt.

“They got to know Trevor pretty well and they said that if I was going to go to Toulouse, they would throw me Trevor’s number. I got in touch with Trevor and said I was looking for a rugby club, because at this point I was out of the Leinster set-up and didn’t get in there after the U20s.”

FullSizeRender Schmidt in action for the Toulouse espoirs yesterday.

Brennan was only too happy to help, while Schmidt also got in touch with Irishman Conor Farrell, a former U18 Clubs captain, who has been in Toulouse’s academy since June. Farrell spoke to the French players and then recommended a few local clubs for Schmidt to potentially contact.

The scrum-half went back to Brennan with that information, but the former Ireland international insisted on heading down to Stade Toulousain to see if the Top 14 club had any openings for Schmidt.

A week’s trial with the espoirs followed, then another week’s trial, before the club eventually asked Schmidt to stay on for the rest of the season. He made his espoirs debut against Pau just a few weeks later and then started seven games in a row.

“When we lived over in France when Dad was coaching with Clermont, Toulouse beat us in the final of the Top 14 the first year,” says Schmidt of landing on his feet at one of the biggest clubs in the country.

“I would have always seen Toulouse as being a European power, a huge club, especially in France. For me, to get in here is pretty cool and certainly not what I was expecting coming over.”

Having fluent French from his time living in Clermont-Ferrand – Joe coached there between 2007 and 2010 – has certainly helped Tim settle in and watching him on the field yesterday, it was clear that his communication is excellent.

The scrum-half, just back from five weeks out with a double stress fracture in his foot, started as Toulouse’s espoirs beat top-of-the-table Perpignan 14-8, with France international back row Yacouba Camara scoring one of their tries.

Schmidt was in fine form, with his crisp passing inviting team-mates onto the ball, a handful of accurate box kicks finding good territory, one or two sniping darts around the fringes keeping Perpignan honest, and he also made some excellent reads and tackles in defence.

The former Terenure College halfback is clearly enjoying the extra responsibility the scrum-half has in France.

“Nine is a pivotal role over here,” says Schmidt. “They put a lot of emphasis on your role in the game and they expect a lot of you, which is warranted. I’ve got a massive role on defence, just with the organisation and positional roles in that sweeper line.

Tim Schmidt Schmidt played Senior Cup rugby as a fourth year. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“Then on attack they expect you to pretty much run half of it. They let the 10 look after the backline, but the forwards are all yours. It’s your job to get them around the corner and manipulate them around the field, so I’m learning a lot and I think it has added dimensions that I might not necessarily have had before.”

It’s hardly surprising that Schmidt is a clever young player, given that his father is one of the most intelligent coaches in world rugby, but there also appears to be a strong streak of competitiveness in the 21-year-old.

At around 5’9″, he is not the tallest player – he jokes about it when recounting playing fullback for Terenure RFC in a victorious McCorry Cup final – but he has certainly added bulk to his frame since leaving school.

And he is ambitious.

“I think it’s every young rugby player’s dream to become a professional,” says Schmidt. “Obviously, in the beginning sitting at home in Palmerston North in New Zealand, I was dreaming of becoming an All Black but since then the lines have become a bit grey, there’s no black and white anymore.

“There’s certainly a bit of green blood flowing there now! Things have changed obviously, but the ambition is still the same – to go professional. It’s proving difficult.”

Schmidt has always been a player of promise and was involved in the Senior Cup with Terenure as a fourth year, going on to represent Leinster through the age grades.

“Terenure College was great for me,” says Schmidt. “The year ahead of me especially, you had some fantastic players come out of it, like Harrison Brewer and Billy Dardis.

“One of my fondest memories is still beating Blackrock in the first round of the cup when I was in fourth year. That’s one thing that has always stuck with me, because it was a star-studded Blackrock team with Gav Thornbury and Peter Robb, people like that. It was definitely a good time with a few fond memories.”

Schmidt was part of a classy Leinster Schools squad in 2012, as they set new points-scoring records on the way to a clean sweep of the inter-provincials, while they also had two successful tours to France.

Joe Schmidt Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has been supportive of his son's rugby. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The likes of Ross Byrne, James Ryan, Nick Timoney, Brewer, Dardis, Oliver Jager and Nick McCarthy were all part of that excellent U18 team.

“We fairly hammered everyone and it was great, a fantastic team to be part of. You look at that team and just about everyone has gone professional, so that was a great time.”

Schmidt played with others like Joey Carbery – a scrum-half at U19 level – and Conor Oliver along the way too, but Leinster opted to bring Charlie Rock into their academy after their time with the U20s.

That left Schmidt feeling that his opportunity to make it in professional rugby might be gone.

“I probably didn’t have my best year of footy leading into that,” says the mature and polite scrum-half. “I became a bit resigned originally and said I’d get through college and try to play AIL with Terenure and pick something up if I could.

“I didn’t really see that I had anything else to go with. Coming here has almost been a lifeline, as such. I felt a bit like I was down and out in Ireland.”

Schmidt appears to be grasping his opportunity with both hands and thriving in France. Erasmus doesn’t involve a huge amount of time in college, meaning he has been able to train harder than ever. Living with four of his mates from DCU, including Cavan footballer Conor Bradley, has made life away from rugby easier too.

Weights, skills sessions and training on the pitch generally take place on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays for the espoirs team, with a game each weekend.

There was just one minor negative soon after Schmidt arrived back in August – getting his head shaved.

“That’s the initiation, as much as I was mortified! Before your first game they’re supposed to shave your head. I arrived a bit later, so they had all been in camp up in the Pyrenees before I arrived.

“A few guys came back with very shiny scalps. They managed to wait five weeks into my time to shave my head, so it was just starting to get cold. I can’t say I’ve had that look too often!”

Tim S Schmidt had his head shaved as his initiation. Source: Stade Toulousain

There was another memorable moment when Schmidt and his team-mates faced Clermont this season.

“I played U13s and U15s with Clermont when we were living there,” explains the scrum-half. “So when we played Clermont this season, there were two guys that I’d played with in Clermont. It was a good laugh, because they had no idea that I was here.”

Schmidt’s call-up to the senior squad in November came on account of Sébastien Bezy and Jean-Marc Doussain being away with the France squad, and it was valuable experience.

“It’s honing in on the skills, pass quality and things like that, and just getting more of a taste of the professional lifestyle. The zero tolerance and that sort of thing; you’ve got to be on your game all day every day, otherwise you don’t last very long.

“My first training session, having Toby Flood there was awesome, because I was pretty nervous turning up the first day when I’d only been there a couple of months. I didn’t know many of the players but Toby was great.

“The first few passes were a bit wayward, so he was like, ‘Two deep breaths. I know you’re nervous, but it’s all good. If you’re here, you deserve to be here. Just deep breaths and go through the motions.’ He was really good.”

Having had that taste of what professional rugby involves, Schmidt is more determined than ever to make it.

While he would ideally like to play in Ireland, he says he is open to the idea of a second season in France.

“I’m definitely thinking about it,” says Schmidt. “I haven’t made any moves to try and stay on here yet and I don’t even know if they’re interested to be honest, but I would definitely be open to it. I’ve had a good time here and it’s going well here. I would definitely consider staying on here.

“Obviously, I want to come home if there are opportunities at home, just because Ireland is Ireland and that’s where the majority of my family and friends are as well.

“It would be easier, but if there are no opportunities back there then I’ve got to take whatever opportunities are available and this might be the one.”

Joe Schmidt Joe Schmidt during his time with Clermont. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Schmidt can be confident of the support of his family with whatever he decides to do next. Joe, his father, was present in Toulouse yesterday to watch Tim on the synthetic pitch just beside Stade Ernest Wallon.

The Ireland head coach has popped over to France to watch his son whenever his demanding schedule has allowed it, and Tim says he has always been a great support.

“In Ireland, he would have come to pretty much all my games. He doesn’t act like a coach, because he thinks of himself just as a dad first.

“If I ask he’ll give me pointers or little things I can work on, even over here if I send him a bit of footage to look through and ask for some pointers, he’ll do it. But he likes to consider himself just a supporter most of the time.”

“I think once I’m happy, he’s happy, that sort of thing. He wants me to do what I want to do and if that means coming over here, he’s more than happy for that to happen. I have the family support anyway!”

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Murray Kinsella

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