The bonds formed between competitors in the Guinness Six Nations can last a lifetime – a theme which extends beyond the pitch and into the dugout.
That much is clear in the case of three coaches with a wealth of Championship experience who came together to share their experiences of the top level.
England head coach Eddie Jones and RFU Director of Performance Conor O’Shea – who coached Italy between 2016 and 2019 – were joined on England Rugby’s Eddie Jones Coaching Podcast by Joe Schmidt, who won three Championships during his tenure with Ireland.
O’Shea hailed the pair’s openness and desire to help their fellow coaches, drawing on his own time in charge of the Azzurri.
“I have spoken before about a coffee I’ve had with Eddie in Richmond and one of my great learnings was a coffee we [Schmidt and O’Shea] had in Dublin after an Ireland-Italy game in Dublin a couple of years ago,” O’Shea said.
“The sharing and debriefing of what you saw in us helped me going back to the Italian team – this is why this happened, this is what Ireland were targeting.
“This is what people don’t see. They see the competition, the war of words – but they don’t see the camaraderie that is there and the way people share the whole time.
“There is a real willingness to share with each other, which is exceptional.”
Jones and Schmidt both come from teaching backgrounds, with the latter explaining his initial steps into coaching were in another sport entirely.
“I had done the pre-season with a national league basketball set-up,” he said.
“I was seconded to coach rugby almost straight away. There is a bit of crossover, no matter what you are coaching.
“I enjoyed doing both and the rugby coaching grew from there.”
Schmidt and Jones went on to give an insight into a player-led structure which both believe is crucial to success at the highest level.
“I’m not a goal setter,” Schmidt said.
“I believe you build a foundation and be really solid in the basics, allowing the players to grow through that.
“When I first came to Leinster I had never been the boss of a ‘big team’ before. I asked them – what do you expect from me?
“They said ‘we’ve seen how Clermont play, we want to be able to play with that sort of width and freedom’. It was player-driven right from the start.”
Jones added: “The higher you get, the more it is about the players.
“It’s a balancing act of knowing when to give them a bit and when to let them run with it.
“Experience is a massive thing, particularly in Test rugby. The experience of two or three players counts for so much.”
When it comes to dealing with young players, there was similar consensus from the coaching titans.
“Young players don’t learn if they don’t have the freedom to express themselves on the pitch,” Schmidt said.
“Sometimes the decisions aren’t great – and that’s a learning experience in itself – but sometimes they are spot on.
“You have to let learn players learn – construct scenarios in training where they are the decision maker to learn under pressure.”
For more insights from the trio, watch the full discussion by clicking here.