Paul O’Connell has urged Joe Schmidt to stay on as Ireland head coach and build an even greater legacy.
The Ireland coach is out of contract at the end of the season and yet to ink a new deal despite reports to the contrary.
He’s expected to make an announcement in the coming weeks, and O’Connell, who won the 2014 and 2015 Six Nations titles under the Kiwi, is praying he stays.
“It’s massively important he stays,” said O’Connell. “He’s one of the best coaches in the world.
“I think he’s put together a brilliant coaching team, a brilliant backroom staff and Ireland seem to be getting better and better.
“I think we should have won the Test series down in South Africa, without a shadow of a doubt, [we’ve won] two out of three Six Nations championships, so I think it’s really important that he stays on. I’m hoping he will.”
O’Connell has worked with impressive coaches before, but he sees something special in Schmidt – a coach who can stay at the elite level of the game for a longer period than most.
“Some coaches hit a purple patch where they’re at the top of the game for two or three years, and then it seems to fade or whatever, but I think Joe will always evolve ahead of the game.
“Most of the stuff that we were doing, it was always ahead of the game,” he said.
“No meeting or no training session was boring. Every day you learned something, even though you were probably doing all of the same stuff that you had done for ten years, but you were just doing it in a way that was so far ahead of anything you had done before.”
Schmidt not only made the Ireland team better, said O’Connell, he made the players better – at improving themselves.
“It comes from both ways, when players come in, they know they have to get up to speed really quickly or they won’t survive, then there’s probably a senior player group that knows they have to bring those guys up to speed really quickly or they won’t survive as senior players either,” he said.
“Even though Joe drives it a lot more than other coaches - you end up with a very player-led, player-driven team as well.
“The likes of Johnny Sexton, he’s almost an on-field coach and I think that’s really important. The way Joe plays is actually quite a complicated way of playing, it is difficult to learn.
“But it’s amazing in comparison to other game plans, how players do get up to speed really quickly.”
Meanwhile O’Connell admits that Munster will have had a ‘phenomenal’ season if they get out of their Champions Cup Pool.
Rassie Erasmus’ men have one of the toughest pools, with Leicester Tigers, Ronan O’Gara’s Racing 92 and PRO12 heavyweights Glasgow Warriors making up Pool 1.
“I’d love to see them make the top four of the PRO12, and I’d love to see them put some big performances in in the Champions Cup,” said O’Connell.
“I think if they could get out of their group it would be a phenomenal achievement, but I think it might be a bit of a challenge.” When asked if it was tough to be talking about Munster in such modest terms, he said: “That’s life, isn’t it?
“That’s just where we are at the moment, there’s no point... you can’t get away from it, it’s just a fact at the moment.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved