Genius Joe Schmidt doesn’t need RWC success to be Ireland’s greatest

Joe Schmidt is sadly leaving Irish shores after next year’s World Cup in Japan and we’ve asked our Rugby Insider about his legacy as coach of Ireland….

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Could there have been a more perfect set of circumstances for Joe Schmidt to signal his intention to quit coaching rugby?

Every athlete, coach and manager in sport dreams of going out not only on a high, but on his or her own terms and the canny Ireland head coach achieved that and then some on Monday morning when his employers revealed the 53-year-old will exit the stage after next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.

There are still 11 months to run on his contract before Schmidt rides off into the sunset to be welcomed by the warm embrace of his wife and four kids, but to announce you are not just quitting Ireland but rugby altogether was some bombshell.

Doing it on the back of a perfect November Test window in which he had engineered a famous first home victory for Ireland over his native New Zealand having set yourself the deadline to do so was very clever indeed.

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But then revealing your decision the morning after you and your team sweep the board at the World Rugby Awards? That was a Joe Schmidt masterstroke.

Then again, World Rugby’s newly-minted Coach of the Year has always been one step ahead of the posse. The plaudits for Schmidt started to pour in seconds after the news broke, a testament to his success with both Leinster and the Irish national team since his arrival in Dublin eight years ago.

Five trophies in three seasons at Leinster, including two Heineken Cups, achieved playing an electric brand of running rugby, endeared him to the province’s supporters and that level of success quickly transferred to the Test arena as Schmidt guided Ireland to back to back Six Nations titles in his first two seasons.

That standard has been sustained and his reputation further enhanced by a number of firsts against Southern Hemisphere teams.

* Ireland’s first Test win in South Africa in June 2016.
* First victory in 111 years over the All Blacks in Chicago five months later.
* A first three-Test series win in Australia just this summer
* The men in green returned to the top of the European tree and up to second in the world rankings thanks to a thrilling 2018 Six Nations campaign, which delivered a first Grand Slam since 2009.

But, let us qualify an earlier statement. Schmidt has almost always been one step ahead.

There remains one glaring omission from the resumé and he has one more shot at scratching the itch when he takes his team to Japan next September.

The 2015 World Cup is the major blot on Schmidt’s Ireland landscape, a quarter-final thrashing by Argentina in Cardiff that exposed a lack of depth in his squad and a fragility behind his first-choice XV.

It also kept the Kiwi in the same bracket as his predecessors, as just another Ireland head coach to have lost at the World Cup quarter-final stage.

Not to have won a knockout game in the sport’s most prestigious tournament used to be merely a sad matter of fact for Irish supporters.

Under Schmidt it was barely believable and deeply disquieting.

The man himself viewed it as unacceptable and every selection he has made since has been with 2019 and a shot at redemption in mind.

He has placed Ireland in the best possible position to achieve the objective as we turn into a World Cup year.

Whatever happens in Japan next autumn, Schmidt will leave his post as Ireland’s greatest ever coach.

Yet fulfilling the promise and potential of a world-class squad by reaching at least a semi-final, well, that would be the minimum requirement of the man who raised the bar in the first place.

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