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Dane Coles' verdict on Joe Schmidt taking over the Wallabies

By Liam Heagney
New Wallabies boss Joe Schmidt as a New Zealand assistant at last year's Rugby World Cup (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Former All Blacks hooker Dane Coles has given his verdict on seeing Joe Schmidt, Ian Foster’s recent New Zealand assistant coach, taking over the Wallabies on a contract through to the end of the 2025 British and Irish Lions tour.

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It was in London last August before the start of the Rugby World Cup across the Channel in France when the front-rower reacted with dismay on learning that Steve Hansen, his 2015 World Cup-winning boss with the All Blacks, had agreed to do some consultancy work for Eddie Jones and the Wallabies.

“Steve, what are you up to?!” said Coles to media at his team’s training base in Teddington after initially not believing the news.

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WATCH as Reds coach Les Kiss explains why new Wallaby boss Joe Schmidt is an ideal candidate for the role

Video Spacer

WATCH as Reds coach Les Kiss explains why new Wallaby boss Joe Schmidt is an ideal candidate for the role

“It hurts a little bit, to be fair. I know he is tight with Eddie, they are good mates… but he is a bit of an icon in the All Blacks set-up. I’m a bit speechless, a bit disappointing but we can’t do much about that.”

Six months later, things are now very different personnel-wise on the All Blacks-Wallabies front. Scott Robertson has taken over New Zealand with a phalanx of new staff and Schmidt, the former Ireland boss, has skipped across the Tasman to become head coach of Australia following the exit of Jones following his team’s pool stage elimination.

Having initially decided to retire from playing after the All Blacks reached the World Cup final in France, an offer from Kubota Spears to play in the Japan Rugby League One as a replacement for the injured Malcolm Marx ticked the interest of the 37-year-old Coles.

Speaking on Tuesday over Zoom from Funabashi ahead of this weekend’s friendly between the Spears and the touring Super Rugby Chiefs, Coles wished Schmidt well – but not too well – in his new role.

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“Aussie-New Zealand, it’s a great rivalry,” he told media. “When you have a guy that is in the All Black environment heading over, it’s kind of a kick in the guts. But once you get past that and understand, I’d rather see him coach as he still has a lot to give and is a great coach, so it’s good to see him put his hand up.

“It doesn’t mean I have to support him or be happy about it. It’s Aussie versus the All Blacks, I’ll have my All Blacks jersey on when they play. But it’s good to see him still in the game and just hopefully they don’t go too well.”

Coles had been under the impression that the 58-year-old Schmidt was retiring from coaching after finishing with Foster’s All Blacks. “He told me he was retiring to Taupo and he comes out as the Wallabies coach. All I can say is he is a great coach.

“You could see even with the All Blacks he has done real well, knows the game. He is very hard and has a lot of accountability, but I reckon he will be a great coach just from being in the All Blacks (with him). Australia not doing too well at the World Cup, international rugby needs Aussie to be stronger, like they were.

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“If he can do that, which I am sure he will get that team up to scratch, it will be awesome. But yeah, it’s always a bit strange when you see a Kiwi coaching Aussie, but that is just the way the international game is now. High praise for him, though, he is a great coach and he will be good for the game. It’s good to see him still in the game.”

Explain how Schmidt made his mark on an All Blacks squad that wasn’t doing well before he joined midway through 2022. “He was big on our attack, our breakdown. He is real passionate and intense when he talks and in his delivery – it just makes you not want to let him down. He calls out people, puts you on the spot.

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“He’s a real intense character when he is coaching and it was probably something we needed when he came in. It probably took a good couple of years for us to get up to international level so I suppose if he is going to be the head coach, it’s probably going to be even more intense which is his character. Off the field, great man. He played a massive part in us reaching that final of the World Cup.”

Would the All Blacks have gone so far at the finals without him? “No. I reckon, like I said before, he was a massive influence in us kind of getting back in those last couple of years to international standard and being consistent in those games as well. If he wasn’t there I don’t reckon we would have achieved or gotten into a final without him.”

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