'He's almost one of the lads...' - Rob Kearney World Cup anecdote illustrates sea change between Farrell and Schmidt eras
A former teacher, Schmidt was known for his strict, headmasterly like approach to managing players. Previous squad members have alluded to a culture of reverence within the Ireland team around the New Zealander that bordered on fear. While venerated as a coach, Schmidt was also very much a man to keep on the right side of.
Ireland’s greatest ever coach would dress down players during infamous Monday morning video sessions, where no name was too big to cop flak if they couldn’t mount a strong case for their decision making in a game or defend an error. A stickler for detail, Schmidt didn’t tolerate characters who weren’t prepared to toe the line when it came to executing his instructions.
Despite a reputation for being ultra physical as a player and a hard man of rugby league, Farrell operates on a very different plain when communicating with players, as brilliantly illustrated by an anecdote relayed by Kearney on Irish television last night.
“He’s a very different personality to Joe Schmidt,” Kearney said while appearing as a pundit on Virgin Media One. “He’s someone who connects with the players on a different sort of level.
“He’s almost one of the lads, a little bit. I remember a time in Japan in the World Cup when we couldn’t get haircuts for love nor money.
“Bundee Aki had a pal over there who was playing rugby and was a barber by trade, so he arranged for him to come to the hotel and he cut the lads hair. So I went up to Bundee’s room for a haircut. In front of me is Andy Farrell, sitting in a chair with a guitar, singing Oasis, getting a tight skin fade.
“That’s something I would not have seen in a million years with Joe Schmidt. He [Andy Farrell] has created a very happy camp in there.”
While his story is a light-hearted one, it echoes comments made by Ulster, Ireland and Lions second row Iain Henderson earlier in the year about the change in atmosphere in camp since Farrell took over.
“There is a different mentality around the place, there is a different mentality in meetings, there is a different relationship between players and coaches, there is a different relationship between players and players going over stuff together,” said Henderson.
“Everything that is done is done in a real positive manner to ensure that we are getting the best out of each other. We’re doing it to make each other better and ultimately to get a better result at the weekend and everyone knows that.
“Maybe in years gone by, guys might have been a wee bit tentative of who they went and asked questions to, or who they are trying to get clarity (from) for fear of people thinking they don’t know their detail, they don’t know stuff.
“But now a very open learning system has been put in place to ensure guys are free to get information whenever they want.”
The page truly has turned on the Schmidt era.
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