Joe Schmidt: 'We didn't prioritise this year's Six Nations and I think that was a mistake'

Joe Schmidt pinpointed a failure to prioritise last season’s Six Nations as a mistake that sowed the seeds of Ireland’s World Cup disappointment nine months later.

Joe Schmidt: 'We didn't prioritise this year's Six Nations and I think that was a mistake'

Joe Schmidt pinpointed a failure to prioritise last season’s Six Nations as a mistake that sowed the seeds of Ireland’s World Cup disappointment nine months later.

Writing in his new book, Ordinary Joe, which went on sale yesterday, Ireland’s most successful head coach outlined his thinking as to why the team he guided to unprecedented success in 2018 then fell flat in Japan last month, crashing out at the quarter-final stage with a 46-14 defeat to New Zealand in Tokyo.

Self-penned by the 54-year-old, the book is part-autobiography, part-exposition of his approach to coaching, and also a diary of both the 2018 Grand Slam triumph and this year’s ill-fated World Cup campaign.

In that final section, Schmidt writes that the team he had drilled for more than six years to stay ‘next-moment’ and ‘next-game’ focused lost that strength with the decision to take a longer-term view towards the quadrennial tournament at the expense of the annual championship.

“There is no perfect formula, but if I could change a few things I think I would focus less on the RWC and more on what we do well and what we can keep working at,” Schmidt wrote.

“We attempted to taper and then peak for the World Cup, but it’s not as simple as that. Even the best players are human beings. We don’t work with straight lines or predictable circumstances and confidence can be fickle.

“We didn’t prioritise this year’s Six Nations and I think that was a mistake.

It doesn’t mean that we didn’t prepare and focus on each game, but we had a longer-term priority and I think it diluted the rhythm that we’d built over the previous five years.

“What we were good at was building behaviours and committing to the habits that helped us to be accurate and connected on the pitch.”

Schmidt admitted he had been shown the error of his ways after that Tokyo Stadium hammering by the All Blacks when he received a text from a key person involved with the New Zealand set-up at the 2007 World Cup, when Graham Henry’s side also failed to reach the semi-finals, losing a last-eight clash with France in Cardiff.

“They put more resources in RWC preparation that year than ever before, with a conditioning window, periodisation and planning, but they suffered their worst-ever exit.”

Schmidt added:

The Rugby World Cup is very difficult to predict and just as difficult to prepare for,” and pointed out that success was not about being the best team in the world but the best team on the day.

“Our performances did not have the consistency of 2018: our levels of accuracy and cohesion fluctuated from game to game, and during games. On reflection I don’t believe that you can afford to taper and peak: you have to be building all the time, and that is done training by training and performance by performance.”

Later in that final diary entry on Sunday, November 3, written back home in Dublin, he adds: “Our level of performance slipped as we started to look too far ahead, and we couldn’t just step back onto the pitch and play with the same level of accuracy, cohesion, and confidence.

“I think the players will build their way back from the defeat to a very good All Blacks team. But when looking more broadly at the RWC, I think there’s a danger in becoming too focused on delivering one-off performances at the end of four-year cycles: that it is more about having a growth mindset on a weekly basis to improve player capability, build team cohesion, and strengthen the squad’s identity.”

Schmidt had personal turmoil to deal with in the build-up to the tournament, returning to New Zealand before the first warm-up Test of the summer against Italy to be at his mother’s bedside as she passed away.

He also revealed how his son Tim met him on the morning of the quarter-final at the team hotel in Tokyo Bay and delivered a poignant message.

“He had a card for me from my mum, with a message she wrote when she realised she wasn’t going to live long enough to see the World Cup. I walked away from him to read the card, because I knew I was going to well up. She wrote that she was ‘so proud of what you have achieved but even more proud of who you have become’.”

He also writes about the trauma he and his wife Kelly experienced when Luke, the youngest of their four children, was diagnosed with a tumour on his brain at the age of four, while Schmidt was an assistant coach at Clermont Auvergne in France.

Yet while sporting setbacks pale in comparison, Schmidt’s diary entry on October 20, 2019, the day after the All Blacks defeat, also reveals raw emotions

Sport can be brutal at times and I’m feeling beaten up this morning. I got a bit of sleep from 5am to 7am,before going down to say farewell to some of the staff who are on flights back to Dublin this morning.

“The All Blacks flew into us from the start and we helped them along, making too many errors. I think our confidence dipped once we conceded the ball a few times and conceded scores that were far too easy for the All Blacks to convert.”

Schmidt’s review of the game is a trademark post-match analysis straight out of the former head coach’s media sessions, with the conclusion: “And that’s the last game. Not the fairytale I hoped for, or that I felt Rory (Best, the now-retired Ireland captain) or the senior players merited.

“For me, I hope that I can look back in time and get some perspective — that it is not only the end that counts but the path that’s been travelled and the moments that money couldn’t buy. Not the trophies but the triumphs, the moments where we broke new ground or made a difference.”

- Ordinary Joe is published by Penguin.

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