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Joe Schmidt: Right Place at the Right Time?

Brian Barry speaks about the recent appointment of Joe Schmidt as Ireland coach.

Five years ago, Ireland were in the doldrums. The methods of an international coach in Eddie O’Sullivan, despite reasonable success during his reign, were going stale. The provinces were doing the business in European competition. A shake-up, a change of face, was all that was needed to get the best out of a more than capable team. Sounds similar to what is happening now, right?

Joe Schmidt talked a lot in today’s press conference about the potential of the Ireland outfit he is primed to take control of. He was fully respectful of Kidney’s regime, acknowledging that the latest campaign was plagued by injury. Having watched Leinster, in his time at Clermont, he recognised their potential. And he feels the same about the Ireland team. And why wouldn’t he?

The results in the final season of Declan Kidney’s reign were disastrous, but that is not to say for a second that there weren’t plenty of positives to extract. Firstly, the only game of the Six Nations in which Kidney was able to field a relatively full outfit was against Wales on the opening weekend. A compelling win against the soon-to-be champions brought about a feel good factor in the camp. Hopes of a crack at the Championship were quickly dashed the following week against England with Johnny Sexton and Zebo among others confined to the medical table for the duration of the tournament. It all went downhill from there. But it was definitely not a disaster. The opportunity to bring in young blood into the set-up on such a big stage was priceless, and that experience will stand to those players when they break into the team in their own right in the years to come.

A key issue discussed in detail at the press conference was that of Brian O’Driscoll. “He’s put some pressure on me [about the Ireland Job], so I’d certainly like to put some pressure on him. The one thing with Brian is he’s very much his own man, he’ll make his own decision.” A move to inside centre has been touted by many as his career draws to its conclusion. This would allow for a faster and younger option in the famous 13 jersey, perhaps Keith Earls. One thing is for sure, should the former captain decide to stay on for another year, he most definitely will not be turned away.

Fears may be rife in Cork, Limerick and Belfast that the Kiwi may favour Leinster players in his future selections. Such a problem has never been an issue for national team. Kidney dropped many of his old Munster favourites such as Ronan O’Gara, Denis Leamy and Marcus Horan. It can be safely assumed however that Schmidt’s professional approach will not be disturbed by such loyalties. We will see plenty of talent from all four provinces breaking in as permanent fixtures in the team in the next few years, be it Tommy O’Donnell, Ian Madigan, Luke Marshall or Mike McCarthy.

It is not yet clear what style Schmidt will bring to that table. Will we see a game-plan which has seen Leinster capture two Heineken Cups under the New Zealand native? He did not give much away in the press conference. He will not announce his back-room staff until the end of the season, with rumours that Les Kiss, Gert Smal and Anthony Foley could have roles to play. With a host of young, fast and exciting backs breaking through, we could see a higher tempo game than we had seen under Declan Kidney. But in order to implement such a game-plan, a change may be necessary at scrum-half. Conor Murray was arguably Ireland’s best player this season. But quick ball is the sacrifice for his physicality and his impressive all-round footballing skills. A lot will be learned from the approach taken in the Autumn Internationals against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.

A fresh look at things may be just what Ireland need heading into two seasons approaching the world Cup in 2015. Joe Schmidt is a born winner. He will have a long-term plan in place. He has the infrastructure at his disposal. Do not be surprised to see him succeed.

POSSIBLE STARTING XV FOR 2015 WORLD CUP: Kearney; Bowe; Earls; Marshall; Zebo; Madigan; Murray; Healy; Strauss; Kilcoyne; McCarthy; Ryan; O’Mahony; O’Donnell; O’Brien.

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