‘Not expecting miracles’: Schmidt tempers Wallabies hopes as coach outlines No.1 priority
In a complete shift from Eddie Jones’ bullish approach, new Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt has tempered expectations by saying he’s “not expecting miracles” and doesn’t have a “magic formula” to turn the rugby nation around overnight.
Schmidt, who was appointed as Jones’ successor last month, has yet to officially get his feet under the desk but is quietly working away in the background in New Zealand.
Having slumped to ninth on the World Rugby rankings following last year’s early World Cup exit, the former Ireland coach has been playing catch-up on the finer details of what went wrong last year with the Wallabies.
“I’ve watched a few of those [World Cup] games back with a different lens and there’s some things I think we can work on and I’d like to think we can improve,” he said on Wide World of Sports radio in Brisbane.
Schmidt’s first priority is establishing his coaching team.
A point of constant discussion last year, Schmidt’s predecessor came under widespread criticism for bringing together an eclectic mix of assistants that ranged from AFL mentors to NRL assistants to established coaches like Neal Hatley.
Even established coaches like former Wallabies prop Dan Palmer and Frenchman Pierre-Henry Broncan were asked to run the rule over areas outside of their specialty.
Schmidt, who helped get the All Blacks back on track over the previous 18 months when he joined Ian Foster’s coaching team, said he would lean on local coaches to give him a steer of the playing ranks in Australian rugby.
“What will be a priority for me is getting a staff that will have some knowledge of the players as well – that way we can build a set of selection discussions that lead up to the right sort of people and, on the back of that, having the best player,” he said.
The 58-year-old, who led Ireland to a famous come-from-behind 2-1 series win over the Wallabies in 2018, is aiming to be at next month’s Super Round in Melbourne, with all 12 franchises to be in the same city for the second round of the competition.
The event last year gave an insight into his predecessor’s thinking, as Jones’ notes were photographed and shared across social media.
Burgeoning talents like Carter Gordon and Max Jorgensen, who were taken to the World Cup, were notable inclusions on Jones’ scrapbook.
Schmidt said he was “really open-minded” about who will feature with the Wallabies this year.
“I’d love to see some of the players putting their hands up through this Super Rugby season and really challenging themselves and challenging maybe some of the guys who have been there before to perform as well as they can,” he said.
“That high tide lifts all boats and we can profit from that by having some guys who are performing at their best when they come into camp because it’s pretty hard to pick a team up from disappointment and suddenly springboard into a test within four or five trainings – that’s pretty much all you get before you go into a Test match.”
On the surface, Schmidt couldn’t ask for a better lead-up to this year’s Rugby Championship.
The Wallabies will play two matches against a rebuilding Welsh side under Warren Gatland, with a one-off Test against Georgia on the cards too.
But Schmidt was quick to point out that the Wallabies crumbled under pressure against Wales during their defining 40-6 World Cup pool defeat last year.
“I’m also realistic, I know how competitive the top of the Test match tree is,” he said.
“You get Wales first-up, who put 40 points on the Wallabies. Well, what a fantastic turnaround challenge that is.
“Looking through the lens with a different perspective, I’m just looking at the individuals and thinking about how we can keep building them forward.
“And then some of the connections I just felt didn’t quite work and try and put those together.
“But, as I said, it’s five trainings that you get before that Welsh Test.
“I’m not expecting miracles, but I definitely believe we can get a shift and we can keep that shift going in the right direction and build a competitive group.”
Their two Tests against Wales will also be an important marker ahead of next year’s Lions series, with the internationals falling exactly one year out from the extremely important series.
“Currently, we’re ranked quite well below the four teams that make up the Lions, so individually they’re ranked ahead of us and collectively you would presume they would be a stronger force,” Schmidt said.
“That’s a fantastic challenge for our men to get together and try turn it around.”
He added: “I’d be relatively short-term focussed, but as a mid-term focus, you couldn’t get a more exciting challenge than that.”