London – Joe Schmidt may have bowed out of the Six Nations with a 25-7 thumping by Wales but his legacy makes the task of his successor as Ireland coach Andy Farrell an unenviable one.
The 53-year-old New Zealander’s impact can be measured by his delivering three Six Nations titles in six campaigns – the climax the Grand Slam last year beating England at Twickenham.
Prior to his arrival the Irish had only won one prior to that in the previous 28 years – the 2009 Grand Slam.
Now the workaholic former schoolmaster — perhaps allowing himself a short break — will turn his attention to the World Cup and rectifying the blip on his CV when his side were blitzed by the Argentinians in the 2015 quarter-finals.
A poor Six Nations campaign by the high standards the team had risen to under his stewardship will demand his strengths of attention to detail and work ethic.
Ireland great Tony Ward told AFP he wished Schmidt was not leaving but believes his announcement he is leaving had a negative impact on the psyche of the squad.
However, whilst Ward would have preferred Schmidt kept his future plans under wraps he says “Ireland’s greatest ever coach” will as always buckle down and set an example to the players.
“One of his great strengths is his work ethic,” said 64-year-old former flyhalf.
“He will work as hard behind the scenes as he demands of the players on it.”
Schmidt, who is to leave the post so he can return to New Zealand and spend time on family projects, is Ward says a much more imaginative coach than some give him credit for.
“He can get sides to play all types of rugby despite allusions to the contrary,” said Ward, referring to derogatory remarks made by Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones.
“Joe is at ease with playing any type of rugby.
“I think there should be more balance going forward but Joe is capable of readjusting the tactics to that.”
Schmidt, who is ruthless as well as players who have questioned the way he runs things have found to their cost, is according to Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll a master of detail.
“One word you associate with Joe Schmidt is detail,” O’Driscoll told AFP.
“Like I have never known any coach to scrutinise a game like him.
“He is an absolute rugby anorak, it is his passion as well as his profession. He is a bit of an insomniac too as he watches so much of it.”
O’Driscoll, Ireland’s most capped player with 133 and who captained them to the 2009 Grand Slam, says Schmidt will not suffer fools gladly.
“He isn’t too schoolmasterly but you want to know what you are talking about, don’t go off half-cocked,” said O’Driscoll, who played under Schmidt at both Leinster and Ireland.
“He will sit you down too if needs be, he won’t take any bullshit.
“You want to be on the money the whole time so if you want to challenge something he says you better get it right, or have a very viable option to what he is thinking.”
Ward, one of Ireland’s greatest natural talents whose 19 caps would have been many more but for having the talented if less imaginative Ollie Campbell as a rival, said he likes Schmidt’s ability to criticise himself as he did post the defeat by England.
He admitted the atmosphere in the changing room pre the game lacked the intensity of last November before their historic home win over New Zealand.
“Joe is honest,” said Ward.
“I love that in saying such a thing he is pointing the finger at himself.”
Schmidt, whose ‘Peter Pan’ boyish looks are admired by Ward, will have to do a fair amount of that in the weeks and months to come if his trophy-laden reign is not to undeservedly peter out disappointingly.
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