Few people understand what it takes to be a successful All Blacks coach more than Richie McCaw and the two-time World Cup-winning captain happens to believe that Joe Schmidt has exactly what it takes to do the job.
McCaw wore the famous silver fern jersey 148 times over the course of 15 seasons and he served four taskmasters — Wayne Smith, John Mitchell, Graham Henry and Steve Hansen — in that time, experiencing crushing lows as well as unforgettable highs.
His advocacy of Schmidt is unlikely to have been offered blithely.
Many a former All Black has been asked about the prospects of Ireland’s current head coach being offered the same role with the world champions and none have bitten so hard on the prospect as the man in Dublin yesterday to promote AIG Insurance’s safe driving initiative.
Schmidt has established himself among the top tier of coaches working in Europe thanks to a successful stint as assistant coach with Clermont Auvergne, his three trophy-laden years with Leinster and back-to-back Six Nations titles with Ireland.
He also came within seconds of securing a first Irish win over New Zealand three years ago and there is the fact, too, that both Henry and Hansen served lengthy apprenticeships of their own in the northern hemisphere before returning home to bigger and better things.
“We all watch with a bit of interest all the teams that have the Kiwis involved. Certainly Joe, with his record and the teams he’s been involved with, has been pretty successful and I know the guys who have experienced his coaching before he came over here always talked pretty highly of him.
“We nearly suffered from that in 2013 so it doesn’t go unnoticed, absolutely, and down the track a guy like that could come back and coach in New Zealand, maybe the All Blacks one day. He’s the type of guy who’d be great. The experience he has is pretty awesome really.”
Schmidt, who is also a contender to lead the Lions to New Zealand in 2017, is contracted to the IRFU through to next summer. He explained last month how, with a son who suffers from epilepsy, any career decision beyond that will be dictated by more than just rugby.
Whatever his next move, Schmidt would gild an already decorated CV still further by delivering what his Irish team came so close to in 2013 and actually beating the All Blacks whom they face this November in Chicago’s Soldier Field and again at the Aviva Stadium.
New Zealand have lost a clutch of world-class talent since last October’s Webb Ellis triumph. Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith are all playing in France now. Kevin Mealamu and Tony Woodcock have also left the Test arena while Sonny Bill Williams’s career has taken yet another diversionary path, this time towards Sevens and the Olympic Games in Brazil.
McCaw could have boarded the French gravy train, but rejected even the concept of talks with Top 14 clubs. He has preferred instead to fly helicopters and compete in the ridiculously tough week-long, multi-disciplinary 530km GodZone Adventure Race, among other things.
How their erstwhile teammates fill all those voids will make for interesting viewing.
“There’s a bit of talk about guys that have left the All Blacks,” he admitted, “especially at home, but you look at the guys that are still there: Think of Kieran Read who’s played 80-something tests, Owen Franks 80-something caps.
“Sam Whitelock has 70-odd. There’s still some experience there and, yes, there’ll be some change and stuff. I’d hope, and I don’t think, too many things will change, but these first three Tests against Wales will be quite interesting.”
Ireland, who convened for a 24-hour get-together earlier this week, will be busy themselves come June when they contest a three-Test tour of South Africa against a Springbok side playing under the guidance of new head coach Allister Coetzee for the first time.
No Irish team has ever beaten the Boks on their own soil. McCaw, with nine wins there in 14 attempts, seemed the right man to quiz on what it takes to win in what he described as one of the toughest and most intimidating places.
“Their support around games can get on top of you a little bit but, on the other side of it, it’s one of the great places to play. If you get a win there, it’s pretty satisfying. The Springboks have similar issues to the All Blacks, guys moving on, a new coach and all of that. It’s probably a good opportunity for the Irish.”
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