Felix Jones has taken up a role with the Springboks just shy of the Rugby World Cup commencing in Japan and Joe Schmidt admits that it has put the Ireland camp in an awkward situation.
Jones stepped down as Munster’s attack coach at the end of last season and was quickly snapped up by his former boss Rassie Erasmus who is in charge of South Africa.
The former Ireland international played eight times under Joe Schmidt before retiring in 2015. He was then part of the coach’s backroom team for the 2017 tour in Japan.
Erasmus and defence coach Jacques Nienaber are both well versed on the Irish squad, having spent 18 months at Munster, but Jones’ direct involvement with Schmidt is a cause for concern as the two nations are on course to meet in the quarter-finals if all goes to plan.
“It’s an awkward situation with Felix, I’d a long chat with him yesterday. It’s a fantastic opportunity for him to go to a World Cup with a team that are on a massive upward swing,” Schmidt told reporters.
“It’s awkward because… you don’t have to be a rocket scientist; he came to Japan with us the last time, so he was right in amongst us. So you don’t have to ask really, do you?
“He was with us, he’s seen everything that we deliver and would have a great knowledge of even the language we use in our camp, so it’s awkward for us.”
Schmidt said he’s a massive fan of Jones and that he has a lot to offer as his coaching career continues to grow. However, he is hoping that Ireland don’t suffer as a result.
“There were a couple of opportunities here, but I’d be a massive fan of what Felix has got to offer in the future, and it will be a great learning experience for him,” he said.
“I just hope that we don’t suffer as a consequence because he’s a smart coach, he already knows a lot about us and if we do get to a quarter-final it has to be either New Zealand or South Africa or Italy that we do play against. That would mean he could be directly opposite us on the coaching bench.”
The Ireland head coach explained that he would not be changing any of the team calls because of Jones’ inside knowledge and that the main goal of topping Pool A remains the same.
“One of the advantages is if you win our pool, Pool A, you play on the Sunday, not the Saturday, and we play later,” he said.
“I think South Africa would probably have a 10- or maybe an 11-day break between their last pool game and that quarter-final, so either way you want to give yourself as much time.
“Whoever wins that first game (between New Zealand and South Africa) will have a degree of control in Pool B, so they will be able to manage their players, and it happened to us the last time.
“Ten of Argentina’s starters against us didn’t play in their last pool match, so they had this fresh influx of players on the upswing. We came off a French game that we found really, really physical. So all those components come into it and all you can do is try to have as much control over what’s immediately in front of you.”
“I can’t control what Jonesy does. Those days are gone. Once he played full-back for me and I had a little bit of influence but even that, having coached him, he’s a champion player, a champion bloke and I think he’s going to be a really good coach.
“I just hope he delays that by a couple of months and is pretty average for the next two months. That would be good.”