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How much influence will Schmidt as an All Blacks selector actually have

By Hamish Bidwell
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt chats with and All Black coach Steve Hansen in Dublin in 2016. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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Would Steve Hansen hire Joe Schmidt?

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Would there be a recognition, under Hansen’s reign as All Blacks head coach, that the thinking was muddled or inadequate? Would there?

That’s not to say Hansen was infallible or that, once Wayne Smith finally bowed out, that everyone on the staff was a genius.

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But do we really think Hansen would ever summon the expertise of a former rival to overcome the various shortcomings within the coaching group?

Or, to put it another way, do you think Hansen would have accepted the addition of a Schmidt-like character, had New Zealand Rugby (NZR) sought to inflict one upon him?

I’ve no issue with Joe Schmidt being added to the All Blacks selection panel and brains trust. My only disappointment is that Schmidt won’t be head coach.

Clearly the man will have input here. The All Blacks were ill-prepared for what they encountered on their tour to Europe, although let’s not pretend that’s an unusual occurrence.

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Since Smith left the coaching group in 2017, the team have regularly been caught unawares by the gameplan of opponents.

I greatly respect the status of All Black head coaches. It’s akin to being Prime Minister of New Zealand.

I’m not quite sure why we revere politicians or seek to afford them messainach status, but I can see why successful All Blacks coaches are occasionally regarded in that fashion.

Ian Foster might have inherited Hansen’s role, but he hasn’t assumed his stature. The Schmidt appointment is a good thing, as I’ve mentioned, but it does also suggest a dissatisfaction with Foster and his staff.

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There’s no point going on a rant about that now. Foster is the head coach and that’s that.

What’s interesting is the extent to which Schmidt will be able to influence the preparation and performance of the side.

I’ve a great regard for men who’ve coached against the All Blacks, such as Schmidt. He and Warren Gatland and Robbie Deans, for example, have a unique perspective on All Blacks rugby.

To coach teams – in their respective cases Ireland, Wales and Australia – with inferior talent to New Zealand’s, must be a huge challenge. You’d have to know the All Blacks in minute detail, to have any chance of competing with or beating them.

That’s a great resource for the All Blacks to now have, but only to a point. Foster and his main assistant John Plumtree will still call the shots.

Plumtree, who worked for Schmidt with Ireland, is yet to be reappointed, but we assume that will happen.

That’s why I think the inclusion of Schmidt is a curious one.

If he were the head coach, then great. Even if he had a head of performance type role – and advised Foster and Plumtree from on high – then I would understand.

But to have a man of his stature and intellect in a kind of bit-part role really isn’t the coaching coup that some have called it.

Yes it’s a help and yes it’s all quite fascinating and yes it’s fairly proactive for an outfit like NZR, but no it doesn’t suddenly sort out the All Blacks’ problems.

In fact, this whole notion that someone’s going to come in from outside and tell Foster and Plumtree how to play against Northern Hemisphere sides is actually a real indictment upon their coaching expertise.

In a way, it almost reminds you of the ill-fated idea of foisting John Hart on Alex Wyllie 30 years ago. But that’s another story.

If this leads to Schmidt becoming head coach in time, fantastic. If ever a man was worthy of holding, what’s arguably, the most important role in the country, then it’s him.

In the meantime, though, I wonder if we haven’t just got ourselves into an even bigger muddle.

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