Chasing stability over pipedreams and rent-a-quotes – why RA chose an ‘Ordinary Joe’ to move on from Eddie
For years disgruntled Australian rugby fans called on the Wallabies to let their actions do the talking. Now they have a figurehead who will preach that message.
Schmidt the coach is one of the great modern-day rugby tacticians, but a promoter he is not.
If Australian rugby fans wanted someone different from Eddie Jones, they’ve got one.
He is the antithesis of Jones behind the microphone. They will barely hear cooee from Schmidt.
“It’s just not something that I’d be usually be doing,” Schmidt said when he released his autobiography Ordinary Joe following the 2019 World Cup campaign.
“I try to keep a relatively low-profile outside of our match weeks. It’s a little bit uncomfortable at times.”
Those that know Schmidt say he has a disdain for ‘carry-on’.
Indeed, Schmidt, who started his coaching career in basketball before being pushed into rugby, tells the story in his early years as a coach in a schoolboy game when his side replicated the NSW Blues in States of Origin with a grenade celebration after scoring a try.
Schmidt, conservative in his nature and someone who considers himself a traditionalist who respects the values of the game and expects his players to do the same, hated the over-the-top celebration and let his team know it.
For Schmidt, he is about winning the hearts and minds of his players – and the wider rugby diaspora.
Up in Ireland, where he forged his reputation as one of rugby’s great coaches, he managed that.
Schmidt didn’t lead Ireland to the Holy Grail, but he got them God-darn close.
Twice Schmidt’s Irish went to the World Cup with high expectations. On both occasions, Ireland’s World Cup dream ended in tears after devastating quarter-final exits.
Yet, in between those two disappointing campaigns, Ireland enjoyed unprecedented success.
After winning several titles with Clermont and Leinster, Schmidt took Ireland to three Six Nations crowns, including the 2018 grand slam, and oversaw the country’s first home and away victory over the All Blacks.
When the New Zealander bowed out, he left with a winning record of 72 per cent.
But perhaps even more impressively, when he joined Ian Foster’s coaching set-up in mid-2022, the All Blacks’ fortunes turned around overnight.
Schmidt’s fingertips were all over the All Blacks, who finally rediscovered their killer edge. That was until a Jordie Barrett kick missed the left-hand upright at the Stade de France against the Springboks in the final days of last October.
It’s why Rugby Australia opted for Schmidt to lead the Wallabies out of the deep hole they find themselves in.
After working on four-year World Cup cycles, RA is hell-bent on getting back to winning. Not in four years, but now.
Having won at less than 40 per cent over the past eight years and burning through several coaches along the way, two things have dawned on RA.
First, Australian rugby’s struggles extend beyond the Wallabies coach and, second, less focus needs to be placed on winning the World Cup.
After all, years of success and planning doesn’t always equate to claiming the William Webb Ellis Cup. Just ask Ireland and France who crashed out at last year’s quarter-finals by the smallest of margins against the All Blacks and Springboks in the space of 24 hours.
Schmidt, having learned the hard way, particularly in 2019, is aligned with Phil Waugh’s thinking.
“The thing that I would definitely steer away from next time in the lead up to a World Cup is trying to focus on a World Cup a year out,” Schmidt told Off the Ball following their heavy quarter-final loss to the All Blacks in Japan.
“There’s too much emphasis on the World Cup already. Our bread and butter is all around the Six Nations and I love the Six Nations.”
He added: “What people don’t understand is how fine the margins are.”
Importantly, too, he will step into Rugby Australia at Moore Park knowing that he has the trust of his employers, having worked alongside new director of high performance Peter Horne at World Rugby and David Nucifora, the outgoing Irish director of rugby, who is acting as an advisor for the governing body too.
He will need it too because there remains great scepticism as to whether a New Zealander, who has worked in centralised systems where everything is geared toward the national team, can succeed in the Australian system.
Without a Leinster-esque side in Australia to build the national team around, Schmidt will quickly discover the many roadblocks in the game that have harmed the nation’s progress.
A former vice-principle, Schmidt is detailed to the nth degree.
Everything, every move, and every play is planned and forecast by Schmidt.
His manipulation of defence is a hallmark of his coaching.
Schmidt’s philosophy is all about controlling the controllables.
On a team level that’s the set-piece; the lineout, scrum, kick-offs.
It extends to the messaging and marketing of the team and filters down to the players to their diet, nutrition, recovery, game knowledge, preview and review of training.
There is a ‘nice Joe’ and ‘serious Joe’, and his structured way of thinking is all about ensuring his players trust the process.
Many have labelled Schmidt a “control freak” over the years.
It’s something he knows and laughs off, but it is a label with a large amount of truth.
Schmidt sees and reads everything. He tries to ensure as little outside noise filters through to the teams he coaches.
But noise will follow his every move.
For Schmidt though, he will hope the actions of the Wallabies speak louder than words.
After all, nothing else matters for Schmidt.