Graham Henry can see a day when Joe Schmidt returns home to coach in New Zealand but the World Cup-winning mastermind believes there is no need for the Ireland supremo to start packing his bags right away.
Schmidt has suggested he will give a decision on how much longer he intends to stays on as Ireland manager by the end of the summer. He is currently contracted to the IRFU until 2017 and knows he has a job as Irish head coach for much longer than that if he so wishes.
It is a decision that will incorporate much more than rugby due to his son Luke’s epilepsy. There are also indications from officials in New Zealand, including those from the Highlanders and Chiefs franchises, the former Leinster coach is on their radar.
The 50-year old has long been spoken of as a future All Black coach in this part of the world but Steve Hansen, the current incumbent, is signed up through to the 2019 World Cup and there are no shortage of New Zealand coaches operating at home and abroad who could succeed him.
Henry clearly sees Schmidt as one of them.
“I think so. I rate him exceptionally highly. I think he is one of the best coaches in the world and I think the players enjoy playing for him.
"Well, I know the players enjoy playing for him. So, he has the base, hasn’t he, to do it. He has got to make those personal decisions about what he is going to do, going forward.
“There is a law in New Zealand to be an All Black coach you have to be coaching in New Zealand to go the next step.
"Steve is going to coach until the next World Cup. In recent times they have appointed coaches from within to get that continuity so Joe might need to be a wee bit patient but he is quality. And I think the older you are, the better you will be.
“So there is no rush.”
Schmidt will have two opportunities to further his candidacy – though he would be horrified at it being put that way – later this year when his Ireland team takes on New Zealand at Chicago’s Soldier Field and the Aviva Stadium in November.
Henry was in Cardiff to see the biggest disappointment of Schmidt’s coaching career when Ireland lost last year’s World Cup quarter-final to Argentina but he resides in the camp that believes the loss of so many key players stood as an insurmountable obstacle.
“I don’t know what the betting was, but they were probably one of the favourites (for the World Cup). But Joe has done a superb job. Then they went to South Africa and won the first test with a lot of guys not there due to injury. How many guys couldn’t go?” At least 10.
“Yeah, so that’s a bloody positive,” he said.
“I know South African rugby has gone back a wee bit but that’s a positive. I’m sure the boys have got (New Zealand) in their sights. Richie (McCaw) and his four colleagues are not there anymore. They won’t use that as an excuse.
"They want to be better than they were last year but I would say it will be a pretty good contest and if they take their opportunities … I remember 2013 they didn’t take their opportunities but it could happen.”
Henry wasn’t just being diplomatic. He is spending two weeks with Leinster on a consultancy basis to offer his wisdom to a young and inexperienced coaching staff headed by Leo Cullen and he makes no bones about the fact that the skillset of players is higher below the equator.
That is part of his brief, too.
Leinster’s attack has become stale and predictable since Schmidt left to assume the Ireland role so it is not surprise that Graham will be looking to teach players some “bedrocks” such as how to recognise opportunities and help improve communication levels within the back line.
“Just the ability to run straight lines and punch pass across the body. And fix defenders. A lot of teams narrow the space by running on the pass, running with the ball and the pass. That will make a huge difference, if you can improve that skill.”
Graham Henry on...
The younger generation of coaches
“Christ, I coached ages before I became a coach at this level. I know this is something that is happening more and more so it is not something completely new, but I found the longer you coached, the better you got. So if you can pass on some of that experience about what helped you get better — it must be a positive, hopefully.”
On his consulting work
“I do a lot of consulting stuff both in corporate and sport so I am doing some work with our local rugby league team in Auckland. I work with three corporate companies on a pretty regular basis. I enjoy it but I enjoy rugby. It still gives me a buzz. I still coach kids teams, schoolboy teams and club teams in Auckland...”
On the state of rugby
“The game is the best it has ever been. The standard is huge. I like the culture of the game. I was at the World Cup last year and the camaraderie of the people, no matter where they came from, was fabulous. We have a special sport which is quite different from most other sports. We’ve got people being able to connect together without having to be in separate sides of the ground; they can be mixed up in the same stands and enjoying each others’ company with good banter.”
On safety issues
“The game is in pretty good nick. The lawmakers will look at the game and say ‘we don’t want mummy saying Johnny can’t play’. So how do you de-physical the game a wee bit? Maybe you drop the height of the tackle, maybe no hands at the breakdown. They’ve de-powered the scrum so there is not the same number of injuries there. They’ve got the concussion thing sorted a lot better. How we continue to make it a safer game is very important so the law-makers have got to look at that.”
On THAT tackle on Brian O’Driscoll in 2005
“It’s a long time ago. All I can say is what I thought at the time: Keven Mealamu and Tana Umaga were involved. Two people I have a lot of respect for. It wasn’t intentional. Brian O’Driscoll is obviously world class. It is a pity it happened.”
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