Shrewd move by IRFU to seal Schmidt deal
By Daire Walsh
IRISH rugby received a massive boost last Wednesday (July 22), when it was announced that Joe Schmidt had signed a contract extension to remain as head coach of Ireland until 2017.
The New Zealander’s deal was due to expire next year, but following the side’s back-to-back RBS Six Nations Championship victories in the past two seasons, the IRFU were eager to secure his services beyond that point.
Previous contract renewals for Eddie O’Sullivan and Declan Kidney in the months leading up to a Rugby World Cup did ultimately herald a significant dip in form for the international team, but when you consider that a successful autumn campaign could make Schmidt an in-demand coach, it is certainly a wise move by the IRFU.
Initially, reports had suggested that Schmidt had extended his stay with Ireland until 2023, which would have been a massive commitment from the former Leinster supremo. These particular rumours proved to be unfounded, however, and the fact that his deal ends in 2017 had led to speculation that he may take on the British & Irish Lions job following the completion of that year’s Six Nations campaign.
Given the short time frame between both events, this may not be possible, but there is also the prospect of him becoming the head coach of his native country’s all-conquering national team.
Since taking charge of Ireland two years ago, the agonising loss to the All Blacks during the 2013 Guinness Series is one of only four defeats that Schmidt has suffered in the job. A 78% win ratio has helped Ireland to climb up to third place in the World Rankings, and this has also helped to raise the profile of the squad ahead of the upcoming World Cup.
While Ireland’s World Cup training squad will get a chance to showcase their talents in a host of warm-up clashes, Leinster’s fringe players will also be given an opportunity to stake a claim for a starting place at provincial level in two pre-season fixtures next month.
Having hosted them in the Tallaght Stadium last year, Leinster will face Ulster in an away encounter on Friday, August 21, before welcoming Greene King IPA Championship outfit Moseley to Donnybrook seven days later. Moseley are coached by former Irish international centre Kevin Maggs, and have previously faced Leinster ‘A’ on a couple of occasions in the British & Irish Cup. In addition to these games, Leinster will also hold a brace of open training sessions in Edenderry RFC and Skerries RFC on August 4 and August 14 respectively.
The Blue Army will have a significant void to fill in the second-row for the 2015/16 season, though, after it was announced that the province had reached an agreement to release Kane Douglas from his Leinster contract.
Citing family and personal reasons (in addition to a desire to be selected by Michael Cheika in Australia’s World Cup squad), Douglas – who made a total of 20 appearances for Leinster – was eager to bring his time in Ireland to an earlier than expected conclusion.