Schmidt: The trophies are the visible things but you want to try to help people get better

For six and a half years Joe Schmidt has lived and breathed Ireland rugby.

For six and a half years Joe Schmidt has lived and breathed Ireland rugby.

The 54-year-old, whose tenure in charge of Ireland came to an end on Saturday evening with a World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand, had overseen a period as successful as any in the country’s history.

A Grand Slam in 2018, two further Championship titles, and of course those historic two victories over the All Blacks.

The end in Tokyo might have been a disappointment, but as he returned to Dublin a couple of days later, Schmidt was able to reflect on just what his time in charge of Ireland had meant.

Speaking to Irish media at Dublin airport, he said: “It hasn’t been a job; it has been a way of life.

“It has been seven days a week and I think I can honestly say, in six and a half years I’ve not taken one, full day off.

“There’s not one day where I don’t think I’ve either been scribbling notes or watching footage, or getting to a game or doing some coaching: going into a club and doing something. I’ve loved it.”

He will finally take a break from that non-stop work. Having initially planned to retire from coaching altogether, Schmidt is now planning to wait until next summer before potentially returning.

Andy Farrell, who has worked under Schmidt for the last three years, will now step into the top job, with Schmidt backing his former assistant to build on his legacy.

He said: “I know these players and I’m going to really enjoy watching them continue to progress and I think Andy Farrell and the team, they’re still going to be doing a super job.

“I’m really looking forward to the Guinness Six Nations. Instead of looking through the glass, I might just have one in my hand and I’m looking forward to that.”

For now Schmidt has the opportunity to look back, and his response when asked about the highlights of his time in charge were typical of the man.

He said: “Some of the high points are probably some of the messages I’ve received from in the last 48 hours, just from ex-players, or people who’ve said there was a real impact during the six and a half years.

“I know the trophies are the visible things, the wins are the visible things but you want to try to help people get better, not just players improve. I think that I worked as hard as I could to do that.

“It doesn’t always work out in those two, 40-minute periods, those two incredibly brutal, but incredibly enjoyable periods where we’ve had those trophies fall our way. And to end as we did is really disappointing.”

The win at Twickenham to clinch the Grand Slam last year is of course a standout for Schmidt, perhaps Ireland’s best performance of the lot along with the maiden win over the All Blacks in Chicago three years ago.

He added: “Obviously, talking about that Grand Slam is special. That first half in Twickenham, that was probably as good as we got. Together with Chicago in 2016, when we played a team that had gone six out of six [wins] in the Rugby Championship, amassed 35 tries, just conceded five across those games against the best the southern hemisphere had.

“We got five all by our lonesome in a super game which was an expression of what we were capable of doing. There’s been some special days with the crowd. I would say one of my best memories is France at the last World Cup [in 2015]. The Irish crowd in the stadium that day, were absolutely phenomenal.

“I know the next week didn’t go well for us with the carnage that happened in that game but it was an incredibly proud moment to watch the players acknowledge the crowd. And the support that we had, it’s only just last November, not even a year ago, that we had the reverse result against New Zealand, not with the same margin but I felt we really deserved to win that day and the crowd, the crowd was phenomenal.

“So I’ll take away some really special memories, but they’re a little bit hard to dig out at the moment because they’re clouded by the disappointment of, you know, Saturday evening.”

The disappointment of that quarter-final defeat will fade, while the memories of the Grand Slam and Championship successes will endure.

As and when Schmidt does decide to return to coaching, he will not be short of suitors. His time with Ireland will make sure of that.