Paul O’Connell’s famous ‘fear of God speech’ from 2007 may be a distant memory, but a fear still permeates the Irish rugby dressing room.
Whisper it just in case he hears, but the Irish players are afraid of Joe Schmidt. Sean Cronin described it diplomatically as a ‘motivational fear’, but speaking with current and former players on and off the record, it’s quite clear that the former schoolteacher evokes a sense of trepidation amongst his troops.
When answering a question about his coach today, Cronin gave an insight into the environment Schmidt has created in the Ireland camp:
When you do make a mistake in a game, you’re already thinking about the review on Monday morning. There’s not many coaches that can put that kind of motivational fear into you. He’s obviously top quality.
It’s by no means a criticism, and based on his results, Schmidt is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in world rugby. 3 Six Nations Championships in five years with Ireland as well as 2 European Champions Cups and a Challenge cup with Leinster, speaks for itself. A Grand Slam on Saturday will cement his position as Ireland’s greatest ever coach.
Schmidt’s attention to detail has been well publicised by his players, but over time, tales of his temper and ability to wilt grown men in a review session or on the training pitch have slowly emerged.
One former Irish player, who shall remain nameless in the hope of someday getting back into the green jersey, described how Schmidt confronted him in front of a packed petrol station over his decision to leave Ireland for an opportunity abroad. He claims to still live in fear of Schmidt turning up on his doorstep should he step out of line and reveal any secrets.
Other anecdotal stories include Schmidt flying off the handle when a certain player revealed details of Ireland’s tactics during a media interview.
From afar, it’s quite amusing and impressive to think that a coach can have that kind of effect on 50 odd grown men. It’s a testament to his character and the respect that the players must ultimately hold for Schmidt. He does in fairness also have a major impact on their livelihood and potential future earnings, but other coaches, such as Michael Cheika in Australia, have tried and failed to implement the same kind of environment.
The behind the scenes stories will slowly emerge as players retire, are spurned, or move on to pastures new, and we look forward to the many page-turners in the biographies and stories at after dinner speeches.
Apparently Schmidt reads everything in the media, so Joe, if you’re reading this, the author is under an alias, so you’ll never find me.