New Wallabies boss Joe Schmidt has laid down his plans for his tenure as coach, focused on building the foundations for a successful side for years to come.
It was almost one year ago that Eddie Jones first spoke to the media, taking shots at Peter V’landys and galvanising Rugby supporters by talking up the game.
Don’t miss HSBC SVNS Perth in 2024: 26-28 January at HBF Park. Get your tickets now!
For Schmidt, you get the sense he’ll let his actions do the talking, referring to his character as ‘pragmatic’ and ‘boring.’
What the Kiwi is, however, is hungry to get the Wallabies back on track.
Schmidt witnessed the Wallabies’ World Cup struggles close by with the All Blacks, based an hour away from Australia’s Saint Etienne camp and believed they looked unrecognisable to the team that pushed his Irish side in 2018.
“I’m desperate for the Wallabies to be competitive and if I can help, that’s why I’m here,” he said.
“I think the global rugby family is desperate for the Wallabies to be where they need to be. British and Irish Lions, they want to have a fantastic series. We want to build toward that and give them exactly what they want and not make anything easy for them and two years after that, you’ve got a home World Cup and I’m desperate that the Wallabies are really competitive in that World Cup and we get through to those really competitive playoff rounds.”
The deal only takes Schmidt until the British and Irish Lions tour in 2025 and the Kiwi was coy about whether he would stay on longer, which is understandable given his future.
The 58-year-old referenced his son with epilepsy, awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 2019 for his advocacy work around the condition.
“It’s pretty much public knowledge that I have a young man at home who suffers quite badly with epilepsy and this job will take me away from the time that I’d committed to pitching in and helping him out,” he explained, having initially retired from coaching after his Ireland departure.
“If we can get the job done over the next 18 months and get the momentum heading in the right direction then I will feel like I’ve done my part of it and I’ll be happy to be hands-on. Or if some Australian coaches come through, I’m really keen to help get some of the Australian coaches more experience as well so they can pitch up and lead the Wallabies.
“It’s certainly not a hit and run [mission]. For both RA and myself it is a good fit at that time. If you were going to make a change before the World Cup, you don’t want to do it a year out.
“You want to make sure you’ve got a decent run at it but at the same time if we get to the end of the British and Irish Lions series and things are going in the right direction and discussion amongst the board and Phil (Waugh) and Pete (Horne) is that the best thing is for me to stay, then that’s a bridge we will cross then.”
There will always be a reaction when a non-Australian takes on the Wallabies job (just ask Robbie Deans and Dave Rennie), but it’s a sign of modern sport when you look at the Matildas’ success with Sweden’s Tony Gustavsson.
“When I started in Ireland for example with Leinster or even when I started in Clermont, I didn’t speak any French. People would still say my accent is really bad but I speak it now. I invested in their culture and language and tried to assimilate myself but also to bring a real effort and endeavour to help them become better players and try to become the best version of themselves,” Schmidt explained.
“I think that formula still applies in a national side. Players recognise if you care about how they are developing and you’re investing in them, they’ll tend to invest in themselves in their teammates.
“Hopefully that will demonstrate where you originate from, you can still help and build a successful national team other than the country of your birth.”
But Schmidt’s appointment is all about developing the system around him that his predecessor referenced as being ‘broken’.
His assistant coaching staff will be largely Australian and the two year deal gives contenders Stephen Larkham and Dan McKellar the chance to further their expertise in Australia and abroad respectively.
“I’d love to get in (and help at Super Rugby level). I coached with Les Kiss for a couple of years. He’s up with the Reds. Darren here, Cronno … those guys. Stephen Larkham was coaching at Munster for a while,” Schmidt revealed.
“It’s a circuit that I’ve lived on for 20 years so you get to know a fair few people and it’ll be really good to get in and reconnect with some and reconnect with others and try to work out how they are going and what is really important to them and how they are building their team so we can try and collaborate and build some of that into how we put the Wallabies together.”
Schmidt may not be the ‘messiah’ that Eddie Jones was claimed to be. But his appointment just may be the turning point the Wallabies need.