The Australian is expected to be named as the new national team coach’s successor early next week on a three-year deal having met staff and senior players last week. And manager Guy Easterby explained that, having been introduced to the job by his own predecessor Michael Cheika before taking over in 2010, Schmidt will help O’Connor before he takes over.
“Certainly when Joe came in he would have met with Michael Cheika on a number of occasions to talk about the squad and how it is put together and how the dynamic works,” Easterby explained.
“I am sure Joe is very keen to leave us in as good a place as possible and he is also going to get the benefit of us continuing to be at the forefront of European rugby from an Ireland coach point of view.”
Easterby would not reveal which Leinster players had met with O’Connor, but said they formed a key part of the recruitment process — although they did not have a final say in who was appointed.
“There’s a group of guys who are part of the leadership group appointed by the players. That’s how it happened and those guys have been involved in the process,” he said.
“They were senior players. And there were other people in the mix as well when Joe came over. They were involved in that process right through.
“It is probably a matter of consultation. It is something that does work for us. I think the players, because they are an experienced group, they have a good idea of the type of coach that will continue to move us forward.”
Meanwhile Ulster assistant coach Neil Doak says the three remaining games this season are all cup finals starting with the last regular RaboDirect League clash tomorrow when Cardiff Blues visit Ravenhill.
While table-toppers Ulster are guaranteed in place in the top four shoot-out, a victory of any sorts tomorrow night will see them host a home semi-final next Friday, probably against the fourth-placed Scarlets.
But it is first-things first for Ulster with Doak stressing that they have a big job to do first before thinking of the play-offs. At least Ulster have most of their big guns back in a provisional squad of 27 and all apparently wanting a bit of the action.
“Thankfully we are getting a few bodies back at the right time. Injuries certainly hampered our progress to a degree, but the boys are very keen to finish off the season with a bang,” said Doak, who believes that the side will want to wipe away the memory of that quarter-final defeat against Saracens.
“We didn’t do ourselves justice at Twickenham and it is something that is preying on our minds and we want to make sure that the crowd here at Ravenhill now get something to really shout about.
“Cardiff may not have something to play for, but we have to be professional and do a professional job. This game may not be about the performance, but making sure we are one-point ahead of our opponents at the end of the game,” said Doak.
Coincidentally, Ulster and Cardiff head the RaboDirect Fairplay League. Ulster are in top slot having only six yellow cards throughout the campaign with Cardiff in second slot with eight. The winner of that little race collects £10,000 towards youth development at their respective club.
Ulster squad: J Muller, C Black, J Afoa, R Diack, I Henderson, D Fitzpatrick, D Tuohy, R Lutton, R Best, M McComish, L Stevenson, C Henry, N Williams, T Court, S Doyle, R Herring, M Allen, R Pienaar, P Jackson, P Marshall, D Cave, A Trimble, T Bowe, J Payne, P Nelson, C Gilroy, S Olding.