‘Not a hit and run’: Schmidt explains short-term deal and why he ‘surprised’ himself by taking Wallabies job
Joe Schmidt acknowledges he might be “boring” but says sweeping statements and lofty dreams won’t win Tests.
After The Roar revealed Schmidt had been appointed Wallabies coach on Thursday, the 58-year-old was officially unveiled by Rugby Australia as their new national men’s mentor on Friday afternoon at Allianz Stadium in Sydney.
He admitted he had “surprised” himself by taking on the role but said a “desperate” desire to see the Wallabies reemerge as a “competitive” threat had lured him back into head coaching four years after standing down from his post with Ireland.
“I’m probably a little bit surprised that I’m here,” said Schmidt, who jumped on board Ian Foster’s All Blacks coaching team 12 months out from last year’s World Cup.
“I thought I’d retired when I went back to New Zealand but I’m very poor at doing that.
“Obviously, being involved with the Blues and the All Blacks since then and I’m pretty excited. This is a really unique challenge.”
After the abrupt departure of Dave Rennie, the departure of Hamish McLennan as RA chairman and appointments of director of high performance Peter Horne and incoming advisor David Nucifora helped give Schmidt confidence the Wallabies role was a “good opportunity”.
Schmidt said he spoke to several coaches who had worked in the Australian system, including Rennie who was sacked eight months out from last year’s World Cup, before settling on his decision to jump on board RA’s ticket.
The task ahead of Schmidt is an almighty one.
Last year’s monumental embarrassment of a World Cup showing, where the Wallabies failed to progress out of the pool stage for the first time, saw the national team drop to tenth in the world. They finished the year in ninth spot on the World Rugby rankings.
Financially, the game is crippled and RA is resting on their two great showpiece events – the Lions tour (2025) and home World Cup (2027) – to help give them a second chance.
Nor has RA been able to usher through centralised system plans, with resistance from the states who are reluctant to hand over their intellectual property after last year’s disaster.
So why take on the role?
“I’m desperate for the Wallabies to be competitive and if I can help, that’s why I’m here,” Schmidt said.
“I think the global rugby family is desperate for the Wallabies to be where they need to be.
“British and Irish Lions, they want to have a fantastic series.
“We want to build toward that and give them exactly what they want and not make anything easy for them and two years after that, you’ve got a home World Cup and I’m desperate that the Wallabies are really competitive in that World Cup and we get through to those really competitive playoff rounds.”
He added: “I do think that the World Cup was not an Australian team that I recognised simply not from my time kind of coming here last time with the Irish in 2018. It was a super contest right through the three Test matches and so there’s this period of time now to work out how and what’s next.”
After a list of home and foreign coaches was drawn up, Schmidt emerged as the standout candidate.
RA chief executive Phil Waugh said “it was important for us to look at the best coaches in the world to take the team forward” and made it clear that he thought Schmidt would bring back “trust” to the game and be able to continue his “track record of success” that saw him win three Six Nations trophies with Ireland in six campaigns.
Waugh added that Schmidt’s two-year deal had nothing to do with a lack of trust and played down the fact that RA had appointed their second New Zealand coach in four years.
It’s believed that it was Schmidt’s preference to sign the short-term deal, but the New Zealander said he was open to staying on should that be the preference of both parties.
He added that he would look to develop the next generation of Wallabies coaches, including with an “Aussie flavour” with his assistants.
“It’s certainly not a hit and run [mission],” Schmidt said.
“For both RA and myself it is a good fit.
“If you were going to make a change before the World Cup, you don’t want to do it a year out. You want to make sure you’ve got a decent run at it but at the same time if we get to the end of the British and Irish Lions series and things are going in the right direction and discussion amongst the board and Phil and Pete is that the best thing is for me to stay, then that’s a bridge we will cross then.”
He added: “If we can get the job done over the next 18 months and get the momentum heading in the right direction then I will feel like I’ve done my part of it and I’ll be happy to hand on. Or, if there are some Australian coaches that come through, I’m really keen to try help get some of the Australian coaches a little bit more experience as well, so they can pitch up and lead the Wallabies.”
On the subject of RA’s Overseas Eligibility Policy, Schmidt once again said it was his preference to pick from home in a similar method to the one he was accustomed to with Ireland.
“There was nothing really stopping overseas selections in Ireland, but I know because they’re so close to Europe, that would have been really detrimental to the Irish domestic competition,” Schmidt explained.
“It’s a very competitive market in Europe. So we didn’t select anyone who wasn’t contracted in Ireland, and that worked really well for Ireland.
“I’d be great if we can select almost entirely [from] Australia … rather than chase guys from overseas.”
As for Schmidt’s style, the understated New Zealander, who is known to be one of rugby’s hardest taskmasters and his forensic detail, said he wouldn’t be one for sweeping statements on and off the field.
“I’m not great at selling dreams. Dreams are not tangible. I’m a pragmatic sort of individual probably characterised as boring, I don’t have the probably the charisma that Eddie (Jones) has fired up but I’m really keen to get into clubs,” Schmidt said.
“People love to get along when they believe their team are going to be really competitive so I’ll probably be a little bit narrow, focused on trying to get to know the people, get to help them perform at their best, combine it as the best that we can as a team, because again, I just think the flagship will drive some of that interest and then interest will get kids aspiring to be part of what they see…
“I think if you try to metamorphosise a way of playing, when you get a prep week and a match week before your first Test match, I just don’t think you can do it.
“What you’ve got to do is just have it as an extension of the way they already play. Meld some of the factors that are already done well, and then build bits as you go along. I don’t think we’re going to get to where we’d like to play immediately.
“I just know that getting a squad of 23 on a match day to all be perfectly aligned and comfortable with a way of playing, if you create too much differentiation between what they’re used to and what you’re expecting from them, I just think that’s going to be too difficult to then gain any sort of consistent performance.”
While Waugh deemed a pass mark to be a semi-final appearance at last year’s World Cup, the RA CEO chose not to talk about what would constitute as success.
“Right now we’re not talking about results,” he said. “It’s actually building a system and level of capability right throughout from the Wallabies, right through our pathway systems.”
Schmidt, too, called for “patience” but acknowledged the need for some “early wins”.
“The advantage of the Bledisloe is it’s at the end of The Rugby Championship this year, so we will get a little bit of a run at it,” he said.
“We’ll come back from Argentina, which is a tough place to go and then try to aim up for that.
“We’ve got to get some early wins and, as I said earlier, while that doesn’t mean the outcome being the result of a win, you’ve just got to be able to perform better, be more consistent in what we deliver and then you build to getting the outcome more often than not.”