The IRFU has promised to do everything in its power to extend Joe Schmidt’s tenure as Ireland head coach beyond next year’s World Cup.
Former Leinster boss Schmidt has brought unprecedented success to the national team since succeeding Declan Kidney in 2013, delivering back-to-back Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015, a first Test victory on South African soil and making history by beating world champions New Zealand, a first win over the All Blacks.
This season’s Six Nations Grand Slam was a first such success since Kidney broke a 61-year drought in 2009 and the final victory of the championship campaign, over England at Twickenham set a national team record for a 12th consecutive Test win, lifting Ireland to number two in the world, its highest ranking since the system’s introduction by World Rugby in 2003.
Yet New Zealand-born Schmidt has long attracted interest from his homeland and the IRFU fought off serious competition from there in the summer of 2016 before inking a contract extension, which is set expire in November 2019, at the conclusion of the World Cup in Japan.
Speaking in Sydney yesterday ahead of Saturday’s series-deciding final Test against Australia, IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora warned that Schmidt, 52, was “his own man” and that money would not be the Ireland boss’s overriding consideration but the governing body would do its utmost to once again fend off rival advances for his services.
“The New Zealanders went hard after him the last time and we managed to secure him for this period,” Nucifora said. “I’m sure there’ll be lots of other people, like the other coaches and the players, that will be going after him.
“But it will be his decision and we’ll do everything we can to try and keep him here if he wants to stay on.”
Considering Schmidt’s achievements in the role, the IRFU performance director continued: “He’s done alright, hasn’t he?
“The first thing that’s got to happen is that he’s got to want to stay. That’s the main thing, and you all know Joe, he’s his own man.
“He’s done a fantastic job and he’s cultivated a good set of coaches underneath him as well and I think we’re just going to have to be patient like the way we were the last time.”
Asked to put detail on his statement “everything we can”, Nucifora said: “What really drives him? The opportunity to be successful is what drives most coaches. They want to win.
"Like players, they want to win. So, I suggest that if he feels that he’s done everything that he can do and achieved everything he can do, that he may look to go. But as I said, he’s his own man, and he could very well surprise us all at the last minute and say that he wants to stay on for another term.”
Nucifora admitted he was not sure whether Schmidt would even entertain the idea of staying beyond his current deal, hence his suggestion of “surprise” should he actually do so.
“I think all the talk at the moment is about him moving on, purely because he has been here so long. But if I was a betting man, I wouldn’t know where to put my money at the moment. I think there’s a decent chance that he will stay. We’ll see.”
Nor was the assumption that a rugby professional from New Zealand automatically wanted to coach the All Blacks necessarily the correct one.
“No. I don’t think it is that straightforward or that it’s what he desperately wants to do. I don’t think that this has been some grand plan to come here and do what he’s done just so he can coach New Zealand. That’s not him. He’s got other things in his life that he’s dealt with. “Those things drove him the last time and they’ll probably drive him again as well.”
With the clock ticking towards the World Cup, now just 15 months away, Nucifora said he imagined both parties would want to get clarity on Schmidt’s future before the tournament starts on September 20, 2019.
Should the head coach decide to depart, the IRFU man said there was a “strong chance” Schmidt’s successor would come from within the current Ireland team coaching group, all of whom are contracted beyond the World Cup to June 2020.
That includes forwards coach Simon Easterby and defence coach Andy Farrell and Nucifora said: “Well, there’s a strong chance that it could, but we won’t obviously limit ourselves to that. I think continuity is important if we feel we’ve got the quality in the group, and certainly there’s a good chance that it could.”
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