Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt admits he has a love-hate relationship with the Six Nations despite engineering three titles and a Grand Slam last season.
The 53-year-old New Zealand-born coach will step down after this year’s World Cup having transformed the Irish from a demoralised outfit, when he took over in 2013, into the number two side in the world.
Schmidt also won the prestigious world coach of the year award last year on the back of the Grand Slam and an historic home win over world champions New Zealand, the second time as Ireland head coach he had got the better of his compatriots.
However, while Schmidt enjoys the competitive nature of the Six Nations, and the passionate crowd engagement, he does harbour mixed feelings about the tournament which kicks off on February 1.
“I have a love-hate relationship with it,” he said at the tournament launch in London on Wednesday.
“Sometimes I am on the bus going to Lansdowne Road and you pass a hotel just before you get there and you look out and people are really enjoying themselves.
“I say to myself I just hope this (the match) does not go bad and I am almost tempted to say to the bus driver ‘whoa, let me off’.
“I just want to go and have a pint with these people and have as good a time as they are having.”
Schmidt, who intends to take perhaps up to a year off to focus on family projects in New Zealand, says people would be wrong if they think he will be distracted by his sabbatical.
“I want to make sure that these next 10 months are as good as I can make them and I want to help the players and put as much of my effort into that,” said Schmidt. “That is where my energy goes.”
Schmidt, whose decision to take time out rules him out of contention to replace Steve Hansen as All Blacks coach when he too steps aside after the World Cup, says he will miss several things when the time comes to say farewell.
“I am extremely privileged to have been close to a group of men who work as hard as they do and achieve what they have done,” said Schmidt.
“To enjoy their success on the edge of it and be a witness first hand has been an incredible privilege and I will miss that for sure.”
Schmidt added the second thing he will miss is being in the changing room after a match when the players have “given everything”.
“Rory (Best the captain) and I spoke about a couple of games in 2016, the massive focus was on Chicago when we beat New Zealand (the first time Ireland ever beat the All Blacks),” said Schmidt.
“But the end of that autumn series we were so hit by injuries against Australia that Kieran Marmion (a scrum-half) spent 40 minutes on the wing and had the task of trying to tackle Israel Folau and did an unbelievable tackle on (David) Pocock (the Irish held on to win 27-24).
“Moments like that you can be incredibly proud of the people you work with. I will miss that hugely.”
Schmidt says his successor, Englishman Andy Farrell, the team’s defence coach, has the qualities to build on his legacy.
“He certainly fills a room,” he said. “I am too small and scrawny to be able to eyeball a player but he certainly can.”
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits by Marisa Kennedy)