Joe Schmidt would be “flattered” if offered a coaching role for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia but the Leinster chief doesn’t expect such a call from his Kiwi compatriot Warren Gatland.
The current Wales coach will be unveiled as the Lions’ choice to succeed Ian McGeechan in London next week and Schmidt feels there will once again be a strong representation from the Principality when Gatland unveils his backroom team.
In 2009, McGeechan brought England’s Graham Rowntree to South Africa where he served as scrummaging coach but the other four assistants – Gatland, Rob Howley, Shaun Edwards and Neil Jenkins – were all taken on secondment from their duties with Wales.
The Welsh coaches have done their candidacies no harm of late with a semi-final appearance at the World Cup, an 11th Grand Slam claimed in the most recent Six Nations campaign and an encouraging if ultimately unsuccessful tour of Australia this summer.
That last chapter was undertaken without Gatland who suffered two fractured feet in a freak accident while in New Zealand on holidays, but Howley stepped in to take temporary command for the three-Test tour down under.
“It would be fantastic for anyone to be involved,” said Schmidt who played with and against Gatland. “I thought Wales did a great job down there. They didn’t quite get the results but the rugby was very competitive, quite open and made for excellent viewing.
“As an adjunct to that, Rob Howley was down there doing a pretty good job because Gatts had hurt his feet and, on the basis of that, he orientated himself well, he learned a bit about the Australian rugby climate and some of their key players. So, he would be well-placed to go back down there and he has also got a working relationship with the man we are talking about as possibly being named the next Lions coach.”
Timing and logistics alone would seem to negate the possibility of Schmidt being included on the touring ticket with Leinster aiming to reach another Pro12 final on May 25 whilst the Lions open their account against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1.
For now, the Leinster coach has more than enough to be contending with ahead of his side’s season opener against the Scarlets on Saturday when he will hoping to avoid the first-day losses of the previous two campaigns. Eleven internationals are still some weeks away from being re-assimilated into the first-team squad while another seven players — Luke Fitzgerald, Mark Flanagan, Conor Gilsenan, David Kearney, Sean O’Brien, Eoin O’Malley and Rhys Ruddock — are out through injury.
Fitzgerald will be lucky to reappear this calendar year, O’Brien has just had a second operation and remains out until at least mid-November while Dave Kearney, Ruddock and Eoin O’Malley will all hope to make returns in October. The Irish contingent can hardly come back quickly enough.
“The difficulty for us is that you can’t suddenly implant ten changes into your starting group,” the coach explained. “They start (training) with us on the field this week, the internationals, and there is no real continuity with them so far.”
The team that finished the last of their three warm-up games, against Sale Sharks last week, contained 13 Academy players and only lock Tom Denton of their four summer signings has yet had a run-out with the European champions. South African second-row Quinn Roux, Kiwi prop Michael Bent and compatriot Andrew Goodman, a utility back, are at various stages of their nascent careers in Dublin.
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