As speculation over his future as Ireland head coach continues, it has been confirmed that Joe Schmidt was in contact with Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark – among others – while home in New Zealand recently.
The news will come as a worrying development to Ireland supporters and the IRFU alike, who wish the Kiwi to remain on at least in the immediate term.
According to Clark, Schmidt is currently “highly sought after” but the Ireland head coach did not reveal whether or not he has signed a new contract extension to stay on in his current post.
The 51-year-old has been linked with both the Highlanders and the Chiefs in recent times, with speculation in New Zealand that a return in the immediate couple of months would have him well placed to be in contention for the All Blacks’ job after the next World Cup in 2019.
“We have talked to Joe over the last year, as have a number of other people in New Zealand rugby but that is all we have done. And we will continue to do so,” Clark told stuff.co.nz.
“It’s no secret that Joe was in the country recently and like all of us, you want to meet face to face. But you can’t always do that because sometimes people are all over the world and you communicate whatever way you can.”
More interestingly, at least from an Irish rugby perspective, he added: “He is highly sought after, and from what I read Ireland are doing a pretty good job of trying to keep him there.”
There has been some speculation that Schmidt has already signed a new deal with the IRFU; however, until any formal announcement is made, comments such as the ones from Clark suggest his departure from the Ireland role is still possible. The comments also suggest that Schmidt will have a number of potential opportunities available to him if and when he does decide to return home.