'He wasn't a warm character... I do believe he did stifle some creativity'
While unquestionably Ireland’s greatest head coach in the professional era, Joe Schmidt’s coaching style was as famous for its rigid authoritarianism as it was for the results it produced on the pitch.
While Schmidt was all smiles and softly spoken for the media, players saw a different side to the New Zealander. Since his departure from the Ireland set-up in 2019, a steady stream of players have described something close to a ‘culture of fear’ in Ireland camps under Schmidt.
Retired Ulster second row Dan Tuohy played 11 times for Ireland between 2010 – 2015, but failed to win the former school teacher’s affections. Now Tuohy, who is heading up Malone Rugby Academy, has given a further inset into his relationship with Schmidt and what it was like playing under him, in an interview on The Telf Rugby Podcast.
“He [Schmidt] is a pretty scary character… I didn’t react well to being belittled or feeling scared. It wasn’t a good thing for me. I didn’t enjoy that. I know a lot of other players didn’t as well.
“Some people thrive on that. But he wasn’t a warm character. He wasn’t making you scared or making an edgy environment on the training pitch, but afterwards, he’d be quite personable, he’d be interested in you. He was like that [scary] non-stop.”
“I’d use Chris Henry as an example. A lot of time that was in shape but he didn’t look in shape. He was fit as anything, but he looked like a bag of s***. Chris was not sure if he could have ketchup with food. There was always an element of hiding things or having a desert and wondering if Joe was watching you.
“One thing I will say is that he prepared his teams incredibly well. I’m sat here and I haven’t achieved five per cent of what Joe has achieved. He prepared his teams to the Nth degree incredibly well but I do believe he did stifle some creativity.”
Tuohy believes that Andy Farrell’s Ireland are still enduring a hangover from the Schmidt era.
“I think you’re probably seeing that now with a painful period for Andy Farrell, but I think there is a trust in the process of creativity and ultimately putting the onus on the players. Always felt Joe would say no.
“I remember at one meeting he said ‘You do not offload. You haven’t got the skills to offload. And this is not me. This is the whole squad. You can’t offload, unless it’s 100 per cent, don’t bother doing it. Just get the ball back and we’ll keep the ball.
“So guys were just petrified to offload the ball. It just stifled creativity.
“It’s such a weird thing for me, as I lived and died by getting that email for Ireland selection, but when I got it, and I’d almost go ‘I’ve got to go down again.’ I’d know for eight weeks he was going to torture me about something.
“Before long he’d be on my back and I’d just be beaten down. I think he wanted to make me stronger, but in actual fact I needed a bit of space. I didn’t work well with that, but everyone’s different. Brian McLaughlin [former Ulster head coach] or Mark Anscombe, would put an arm around my shoulder, and they’d be like ‘I believe in you mate. You can do this’. And I’d feel like I was 10 feet tall.
“I think Joe wanted to see me come out and be fighting and he was telling me all these different things.
“I remember a World Cup warm-up match in 2015 and I was absolutely dreadful against Scotland, because I was trying to do things that other locks did, but I thought that he wanted me to do. It was a shambles for me.”
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