Mario Ledesma: I never knew Joe had such a ruthless side

By Brendan O'Brien

Mario Ledesma spent three seasons at Clermont Auvergne with Joe Schmidt but he never saw the ruthless side to the current Ireland head coach that has delivered so much success in these parts.

The Pumas head coach was a grizzled veteran of a player in his mid-thirties when Schmidt arrived in the 'Massif Central' in 2010 to take up the role of attack coach under fellow Kiwi Vern Cotter.

Schmidt reminisced about those times earlier this week, prior to Ireland's meeting with Ledesma's Argentina on Saturday, and about how Ledesma was the perfect sounding board on those rare occasions when Cotter would task him with a role involving the forwards.

"I was a bit of a nuisance as a player,” said the jocular Ledesma on Friday evening. “If I had many of me in my team I would be struggling! But it was a little bit like that. Even when Vern was there he tried to give us that responsibility.

He would plan the whole thing and maybe correct stuff, but let us do things too, especially when it came to lineouts and scrums.

“It was good to have Joe there. His job was obviously really different over there. He was the attack coach. When I heard he was really ruthless as a head coach I was surprised because he wasn't like that as an attack coach. Well, there you go.”

Ledesma isn't the only man to highlight the differences between Schmidt the assistant and Schmidt the gaffer. Some of the Kiwi's players who played for him at Leinster have admitted to similar questions but Ledesma has had to adapt in much the same way.

An assistant at Stade Francais, Montpellier, the Waratahs and with the Wallabies in the past, he gave an interesting insight into the metamorphosis that must happen when men such as Schmidt and himself move up that ladder.

“In front of the players you have to (change). Obviously when you are assistant you are not the real boss. You are not a peer but you are closer to them. You cannot be as (close) as a head coach.

“The head coach is the boss. He can rely on that a little more. I had the experience of being the assistant and trying to be really tough as that and I wasn't really good.”

Ledesma may be the younger, less experienced coach but Schmidt admitted on Thursday that the South American threw him an unexpected curveball with the selection of lock Guido Petti at blindside flanker for his first start in the position.

Ledesma was delighted to hear that.

“Really?” he said with a laugh.

Another chuckle escaped when asked if he had any other tricks up his sleeve.

There is going to be something in the food tonight,” he smiled.

The pair haven't had many opportunities to catch up since their mutual time together at Clermont Auvergne but they did manage to grab a beer together earlier this week ahead of a game in which Ireland are heavy favourites to win.

“I've been all over the place and he's been winning, everywhere. It was really good to see him.

"He's the same and that's the good thing about him. He has done a great job. It was really good to meet him and pick his brain a little bit.

“Obviously not about the way they play or prepare, but about the feedback and how he plans the week or the season. It's really interesting as a young head coach. You try to get whatever you can from successful coaches like Joe.”


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