For Ronan O’Gara, the small details left the biggest impression.
Joe Schmidt has permitted few people to peek into the inner sanctum of his dressing-room, or his mind, and the former Munster out-half was left suitably impressed by the two weeks just spent with the Kiwi and his callow Ireland squad in Carton House and New Jersey.
He’d heard plenty about Schmidt through his network of contacts in the game, he’d even spoken to him many a time down the years, but O’Gara admitted yesterday that he had reported for duty in a coaching/observer capacity not knowing exactly what he should expect.
What struck him was the former Leinster coach’s energy and enthusiasm, the unrelenting drive and organisation, and the simple, straightforward manner in which messages were delivered. The buy-in from players was obvious from something as simple as a dropped ball.
“It would be looked upon as a big error, which is great,” he explained. “The big thing which he bases the performance on, is indiscipline, simple errors. Like, a high tackle would be looked upon as a big fault and so many big faults equals to, I’d say, non-selection.
“He has a choice of players there built up over the four years he’s been in charge who he knows will perform for him, so he creates an environment where he wants players performing with a clean disciplinary record and a low error count.”
None of what O’Gara saw was revolutionary, just familiar work done better.
The detail of their walk-throughs was at a level that he hadn’t witnessed before but the perception that Schmidt rules his players’ actions on the field with an iron rod and a compass is not one that fits with the day-to-day story that unfolded in front of O’Gara.
The Racing 92 assistant coach admits he was fearful of seeing players who would “turn into robots” but the reality came in the form of video sessions where the head coach would encourage players to kick to space or run for a gap if it was on.
If the execution wasn’t right? Well, different story.
O’Gara gave an interview to the IRFU’s in-house TV whilst with the squad in America, and ahead of the facile defeat of the Americans, and his delight to be working with a young squad of players operating without so many Lions and injured vets was obvious.
It was a topic he returned to yesterday.
“Yeah, you’re right. I just couldn’t get over their attitudes. I thought young kids might be cheeky or disrespectful or whatever, but they were unbelievable. Garry Ringrose, all of them were really humble kids. Like, four years out of the environment for me is a long time.
“Coming in, it was only Cian Healy, Dev (Toner), (Keith Earls) Earlsy and (Simon) Zebo that I really knew. I didn’t know any of them really, which was a good thing, I think. But they all came over at different times just to ask questions and stuff, which I find fascinating.”
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