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Ex-All Black Sir John Kirwan ‘uncomfortable’ with Joe Schmidt joining Wallabies

By Finn Morton
Ex-Ireland boss Joe Schmidt has taken charge of Australia (Photo by Ayush Kumar/AFP vis Getty Images)

Rugby World Cup-winning All Black Sir John Kirwan has expressed his discomfort in former New Zealand assistant coach Joe Schmidt heading across the Tasman to take up the Australia job.

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Schmidt, 58, rose to world-class coaching status during a glistening stint with Ireland, which saw him guide the men in green to World No. 1 status for the first time. During Schmidt’s reign, Ireland also claimed their maiden victory over the All Blacks.

But after stepping away from that role, New Zealand-born Schmidt linked up with the All Blacks and served as an assistant coach under Ian Foster at last year’s Rugby World Cup in France.

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There’s no denying that Schmit is a talented coach with plenty to give to the sport, but his decision to take the Wallabies’ head coach job has drawn a reaction from a New Zealand rugby great.

Sir John Kirwan, who himself coached both Japan and Italy, revealed on New Zealand TV that the appointment has left him feeling “a little bit uncomfortable.”

“I think he’ll be great, and we want Australia to be strong,” Kirwan said on Sky Sport NZ’s The Breakdown.

“But if you come this way, coach other nations and then you come back and coach the All Blacks. But after that, I think it’s too close.

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“But as an ex-All Black, I get uncomfortable with that… but good luck to him.

“I hope he makes Australia strong because I really want them to be strong.

“He’ll be a great coach, but as an ex-All Black, it makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. Nothing personal.”

Following Dave Rennie and Eddie Jones, Schmidt was officially unveiled as the Wallabies’ third head coach in as many years at a press conference last month.

The former World Rugby Coach of the Year was presented to a room full of reporters at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium.

Rugby Australia’s decision to appoint Schmidt was largely seen as a step in the right direction for Australian rugby, although he’s only signed on until the end of next year’s British and Irish Lions Tour.

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“I’m desperate for the Wallabies to be competitive, and if I can help, that’s why I’m here,” Schmidt explained at that press conference.

“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 so we want to build toward that and give them exactly what they want and not make anything easy for them.

“Two years after that you’ve got a home World Cup.

“I’m desperate that the Wallabies are really competitive in that World Cup and we get through to those really competitive playoff rounds.”

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Poorfour 11 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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