Joe Schmidt: Out-going coach's lasting legacy on Irish rugby

Joe Schmidt (foreground) and Andy Farrell
Joe Schmidt is known as a demanding taskmaster in training

Three Six Nations titles, a Grand Slam, a first victory in South Africa, two wins over New Zealand and a first series win over Australia in 39 years.

Joe Schmidt's achievements with Ireland are clearly impressive but they fail to tell the full story of how much he has transformed Irish rugby since he first arrived at Leinster in 2010.

In his first head coaching role, he nurtured the career of Johnny Sexton and led the province to consecutive European Cup wins before transferring that success to the Test arena.

Leinster's continued success, and the conveyor belt of talent running through their academy system, has powered Schmidt's Irish team from eighth to second place in the world rankings and they could yet topple the All Blacks from their perch during next year's Six Nations championship.

The success of the men's national team under Schmidt has raised hopes that Ireland could finally break through the World Cup quarter-final barrier that has proved impossible to overcome in the past - including in 2015 when the New Zealander had already been in charge for two years.

Rory Best and Joe Schmidt
Rory Best has been Ireland captain under Schmidt since 2016

A legendary attention to detail

"Joe's legacy in Ireland will obviously be the trophies he's won with Leinster and with Ireland but probably more so it will potentially be the coaches that he brings through," Ireland captain Rory Best told BBC Radio 5 live's Rugby Union Weekly.

"When you look at what he's done, you'd like to think that in the next couple of years there'll be coaches that have worked under Joe Schmidt as players that will come through and who will bring that attention to detail, that drive to be the best in the world, and they'll bring that into the club came in Ireland.

"Ultimately the goal is to get as many home grown coaches as we can within the provinces, the national team and the whole set-up."

Schmidt's attention to detail and the demands he makes of his coaches and players is legendary but it is matched by the workload he performs himself.

So it probably should not have come as a surprise that the 53-year-old plans to end his coaching career and spend more time with his family when he eventually steps down after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

He will inevitably be linked with the New Zealand job in the future but he has already done more than his share to promote the sport in his adopted homeland.

"The fantastic thing about Joe is that he's leaving Irish rugby in a much better place," added full-back Rob Kearney.

"He'll commit to making sure that there's a contingency plan that he's breeding new coaches that come in and ensure that this Irish team is going to continue to try and be competitive at the very top level.

"Is there another Joe Schmidt out there? Probably not and I think as an Irish rugby team we've really been blessed to have been able to have his services over the last five to six years."

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Schmidt leaves Ireland in a better place - Kearney

He changes how you look at the game - O'Connell

Ireland's 2009 Grand Slam-winning fly-half Ronan O'Gara has previously spoken of how much he regrets not having had the opportunity to work under Schmidt and how envious he was of his former team-mates who seemed to improve with every training session they spent with the Kiwi.

O'Gara's Munster colleague Paul O'Connell captained Ireland to their first two Six Nations titles under Schmidt but took time to adjust to how the former English teacher expected his players to perform.

"I got two years playing under Joe towards the end of my career and you end up thinking about the game, you end up looking at every single game differently," O'Connell told Matt Dawson's Rugby Show on BBC Radio 5 live.

"He's able to create a group of guys that just fit in whenever they go in to play. He has a very simple way of playing, a very simple way of preparing teams and if you give real clarity to very smart, good rugby players they can be excellent rugby players.

"Everyone knows where they should be at any one time and it's quite difficult to know your own role - that was my experience when I first started playing with Joe Schmidt, it was very hard to know where I was supposed to be at all times."

Andy Farrell, Greg Feek, Joe Schmidt, Simon Easterby and Richie Murphy
Ireland coaches (l-r) Andy Farrell, Greg Feek, Joe Schmidt, Simon Easterby and Richie Murphy

Fuelled by two Grand Slam wins in nine years as well as the Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015, rugby's popularity has exploded in Ireland over the past decade as the only fully professional team sport on the island.

O'Connell believes that Schmidt has also worked hard off the field to increase interest in the sport: "He has a far-reaching effect. It isn't just the national team. He's very good at promoting the game here, he does a massive amount of charity work and his coaching style and philosophy is filtering down into all the provinces.

"It's filtering down into schools and into underage rugby and it's having a massive effect on Irish rugby in general.

"So it's not just the results he delivers with the national team that mean the IRFU gets great value when they pay him whatever they pay him, it's the effect he seems to be having further down through the game as well."

'He makes life tough for you'

Andrew Conway is an example of how Schmidt's influence has helped to shape the careers of so many players within the Irish system.

The Dubliner was a star schoolboy player but struggled to break into a Leinster backline populated by the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Shane Horgan and Rob Kearney during Schmidt's time in charge of the province and made the move to Munster in search of more regular game time.

Although he had failed to become a regular under Schmidt at provincial level, Conway was selected for the Emerging Ireland and Ireland Wolfhounds squads during his early years at Munster and the utility back is now pushing for a place in the World Cup squad after his hat-trick performance against the United States during this year's autumn internationals.

"When you're in meetings with him sometimes you just watch on and realise how lucky you are to have someone like that who is telling you what to do and who is making you grow as a player," said Conway.

"He's second to none, I'd be shocked if there is anyone out there in the world who is a better rugby coach than Joe Schmidt. What ever he would have put his hand to he would have been an expert at and luckily for us rugby was his choice.

"He makes life tough for you, camp is tough going and playing is tough going, you know what is expected of you, but he absolutely brings the best out of you and I really enjoy being in that environment."

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