‘Something we needed’: Coles says ABs would not have made RWC final without Schmidt – and why Wallabies stand to benefit
In a huge endorsement for new Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt, World Cup-winning All Blacks hooker Dane Coles says New Zealand would not have made last year’s final if it wasn’t for the late arrival of his compatriot.
“If he wasn’t there, I don’t reckon we would have got into a final without him,” Coles said.
Schmidt, who took Ireland to the top of the World Rugby rankings in 2018 during his six-year tenure as head coach, was a sudden inclusion on Ian Foster’s coaching ticket in mid-2022.
At that point, the All Blacks were in a state of crisis, with loud calls for Foster to be sacked after a historic home series defeat to Ireland.
It also came after a patchy 2020, where the All Blacks had suffered a first defeat to Argentina in Sydney.
The All Blacks’ 2-1 series defeat to Ireland turned the focus on Foster like no other New Zealand coach had felt since Graham Henry’s side was bundled out in the quarter-finals of the 2007 World Cup campaign.
Needing to address the unravelling situation, New Zealand Rugby made changes to their coaching team by adding Crusaders forwards assistant Jason Ryan and Schmidt, who had been working with the Blues as a consultant.
Almost immediately the detail that was missing in the All Blacks’ game returned despite a few speed bumps along the way.
But the biggest indicator the All Blacks were back was in this year’s The Rugby Championship, where New Zealand raced out of the blocks in their opening three fixtures of the competition.
While there were questions about the All Blacks when they were smashed by the Springboks in a World Cup warm-up and then Les Bleus to open the tournament in Paris, the three-time world champions responded with brute force and made a stunning run to the final.
Ultimately, the All Blacks lost 12-11 in a gripping final to their southern hemisphere rivals, but Coles said Schmidt’s expectations and rugby nous was pivotal in their run.
“He was big on our attack, our breakdown,” said Coles, who signed a short-term deal with Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay in Japan’s League One competition following the World Cup.
“He’s real passionate and intense when he talks. It makes you not want to let him down.
“He calls out people and puts you on the spot.
“He’s just a real intense character when he’s coaching and that was probably something we needed. If he’s going to be the head coach, he’s probably going to be even more intense. Off the field, he’s a great man.
“He played a massive part in us reaching that final in the World Cup.”
Coles said he was surprised when he heard the news that Schmidt had accepted the Wallabies head coaching role last month.
“He told me he was retiring and then he comes out as the Wallabies coach,” quipped Coles, the 2015 World Cup winner.
But the former Hurricanes skipper, who joked that he had the “shortest retirement in history” by moving to Japan, added that Schmidt was the type of figure who could help the Wallabies re-emerge as a rugby power.
“All I can say is he’s a great coach. He knows the game,” Coles said. “He’s very hard, a lot of accountability, but he’ll be a great coach.
“With Australia not doing to well at the World Cup, international rugby needs Aussie to be dominant like they were, so if he can do that, which I’m sure he’ll get that team up to scratch, he’ll be awesome.
“It’s always a bit strange when you see a Kiwi coaching Aussie, but it’s just the way the international game is now. But I have high praise for him, he’s a great coach and he’ll be good for the game, and it’s good to still see him in the game.”
Schmidt is the second former All Blacks coach in six months to step inside the Wallabies’ camp.
It comes after Coles’ former head coach at two World Cup campaigns, Steve Hansen, joined Jones’ Wallabies side in Paris ahead of last year’s tournament.
After the news broke, a shellshocked Coles responded to reporters in England by asking, “Shag, what are you up to?”. He added: “It hurts a little bit”.
Once again Coles said it was a “bit of a kick in the guts” to see a New Zealander step inside the Australian camp.
“Aussie-New Zealand, that’s a great rivalry, so when you have a guy in the All Blacks environment heading over, it’s kind of a kick in the guts,” he said.
“But once you get past it and understand it, I’d rather see him coaching a team because I know he’s still got a lot to give and he’s a great coach, so it’s good to see him put his hand up. It doesn’t mean I’m going to support him, it’s Aussie versus the All Blacks. Hopefully, they [the Wallabies] don’t go too well.”