Joe Schmidt will make Christmas call on his future

Joe Schmidt will reach a decision on his future as Ireland head coach over the Christmas period.

The New Zealander, who has cemented his position as Irish rugby’s greatest national team boss by securing a Six Nations Grand Slam this season, is out of contract with the IRFU at the end of the next World Cup, which kicks off in Japan in 15 months.

IRFU performance director David Nucifora said earlier this week that the governing body would do everything they could to retain Schmidt’s services beyond the 2019 World Cup.

Despite the sense the 52-year-old head coach would move on at that point, Nucifora feels there is “a decent chance that he will stay”.

Schmidt, who became Ireland boss in 2013 after winning two Heineken Cups with Leinster, yesterday said his decision would be based on the wellbeing of his family, both in Ireland and at home in New Zealand.

“I would want my family to be happy. I think that has got to be a priority for anyone in a job, because I am kept pretty happy, pretty easily, being able to work with the quality of the people that I work with, so from that perspective, it is incredibly positive,” said Schmidt.

“My family obviously extends beyond my immediate family. And there is some lingering doubt about being so far away, but I tend to be able to get back once a year and that is a pretty precious time to get back and enjoy the rest of the family. Yeah, it is one of those things, any time I have thought about it, I have stopped myself thinking about it.

“I have said ‘yeah, just get on with the job in hand and when you get to the end of November, give yourself a couple of weeks, not to linger too much over it but just to make a decision. There’ll be times where I’ll lapse and think about it briefly and I think that’s important as well, just so that I think I can try to be definitive when the time comes.”

Schmidt said nothing yesterday to suggest his current intentions as he named his team for Ireland’s final game of the season, the series-deciding third Test against Australia.

“No, I am off the hook there. That is a long way away.

“By the end of this year, I’d say, there will be some clear direction there because, for the entire following year, I am still in situ, unless I get sacked.

“You just never take anything for granted. You can be flavour of the week one week, and then things can turn around very quickly.

“I take nothing for granted but I have been lucky enough to do the job for as long as I have, and I have really enjoyed the people I have worked with. One of the misconceptions is that a head coach has a major influence. I would like to think I have a degree of influence but I have a great coaching team and that includes Jason Cowman and the strength and conditioning coach department and the medical team. I think Ireland are really lucky.

“Conor (Murray) mentioned earlier that the coaches manage the players well but the medical people have managed them well as well. It is a really nicely oiled machine to be part of, and I have benefited from that massively.”

Many would argue that it is down to Schmidt that the machine is so well run. Credited by the players for instilling a meticulous, intensely detailed approach to their daily preparations for matches, the Kiwi who became an Irish citizen has brought unprecedented success in terms of results, has delivered three Six Nations titles in five seasons, including this term’s Grand Slam, secured with a 12th successive victory that set an Irish record-winning run.

He also oversaw a first Test win on South African soil when the Springboks were beaten in June 2016 and masterminded a first win over New Zealand, when the world champion All Blacks were beaten in Chicago in November 2016.

The record unbeaten run took Ireland to an all-time high of second in the World Rugby rankings and though it was ended by the Wallabies in this month’s first Test, the series was tied with a first win in Australia since 1979 when Schmidt’s side won 26-21 in Melbourne last week to set up tomorrow morning’s decider at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium.

Next season’s fixtures, confirmed this week, will see Ireland kick off the autumn international window in Chicago against Italy before home games in Dublin against Argentina, New Zealand, and the United States. With the Six Nations title defence coming next spring, that leaves Ireland with just nine games after the weekend before next August’s World Cup warm-ups, by which time Schmidt will have reached a decision.

“I would say I will try and get through the November series. That was announced recently as well and it will be quite exciting for us, obviously with the All Blacks coming, Argentina and the USA, USA on the back of their first tier-one scalp (since 1924, last weekend’s win over Scotland).

“We’re away to Italy in Chicago which has some really special memories for us. That is a really nice group of games and then following that, one of the few times of the year our family manages to get together is Christmas and we will make a decision after that, I would say.”

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