IRFU chief executive Philip Browne accepted yesterday that the future of Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt remains very much up in the air.
Schmidt’s current contract with Ireland runs out at the end of next year’s summer tour, and with a number of clubs in his native New Zealand interested in his services, it remains to be seen if he will lead Ireland into the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Speaking at the Sport Ireland Field Sports Investment Announcement at the National Sports Campus — where it was announced that the IRFU would be allocated a fund of €2.36 million towards grassroots development — Browne stressed that Schmidt’s ultimate decision will be motivated by what is best for his family, rather than any financial implication.
“I can’t shed any light on it at all, other than Joe knows exactly what our position is. We’d love him to stay. He is in New Zealand still, and until he gets back, we won’t have any further idea. It’s a matter for Joe and what he wants,” Browne remarked.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of finance. Joe is from New Zealand, he has family in New Zealand and he has to take all of those things into consideration. At the end of the day, we’ll have to wait until Joe comes back. We’ll have conversations, no doubt, and things will become a little more clear.”
Although the uncertainty is hardly ideal for the IRFU, Browne is not overly concerned, and pointed to quality coaches at home and abroad as future options for the position.
“I don’t think it’s a worry. We have a lot of good coaches in the system at the moment and there’s a number of very good coaches with an Irish background abroad. So we’re probably in a better place than we’ve ever been in terms of coaching talent.
“Joe is here until the end of the summer tour next year, at a minimum, hopefully longer than that. it gives us a good window of opportunity to sort something out if it arises.”
Browne is confident that Schmidt will reach a decision about his future before next January.
“I’d imagine that we’ll have a decision before that [January, 2017], to be honest. Joe will make his mind up over the next number of weeks, months and we’ll go forward from then.”
Browne also addressed the thorny issue of player eligibility rules at international level. Under the current laws, players are allowed to play for a country if they have been a resident there for a minimum of three years.
Browne is in favour of a longer qualification period, but also stressed that World Rugby have more important issues to deal with at the moment.
“The law is the law. The rules at the moment are three-year qualification and if it goes to five years then so be it. In an ideal world, maybe it should be a little bit longer — longer than three.
“But at the end of the day, those are the rules and we play by the rules. I think there’s more important things for World Rugby to deal with than the three-year eligibility rule, to be honest with you.”
The current rugby fixture calendar is one of the areas that World Rugby are reviewing, and Browne will play a key part in this process.
“In relation to the calendar, there’s a small working group that’s been set up. Steve Tew and Jurie Roux from South Africa, who are dealing with it from the perspective of SANZAR. There’s Ian Ritchie, who’s dealing with it from the perspective of English rugby and Jean-Pierre Lux from France and I’m representing the PRO12.
“The bottom line is that it’s not just about trying to marry the northern and southern hemisphere fixtures, it’s about trying to do it within the context of making sure that we don’t decrease the values.”
Browne and the northern hemisphere nations are generally happy with the current fixture list, but New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia are pushing for an alternative plan.
But if proposed changes are not to the satisfaction of all unions, Browne doesn’t see the benefit of tweaking the calendar.
“There’s not much point changing it if it’s going to make things worse. That would be my view. New Zealand would say ‘well, if there’s no change, well then we’ll do away with the current international fixture schedule, and having matches on a once-off basis.’ Personally, that would not be a terribly good idea, and I don’t think it would necessarily do much for New Zealand rugby either.
“Having said that, what has to happen is, the outcome has to be a win-win for everyone. It can’t be winners and losers, and at the moment it’s very hard to see how changing the season is not going to create a situation where there are winners and there are losers,” Browne added.
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