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Tate McDermott's first impression of Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt

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

The Wallabies’ fresh start in 2024 took a step forward on Wednesday morning as all five Australian Super Rugby Pacific captains met new national coach Joe Schmidt.

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Schmidt, 58, is the Wallabies’ third coach in as many years following stints from New Zealand-born coach Dave Rennie and now-Japan boss Eddie Jones.

But Schmidt, who just like Dave Rennie is also a New Zealander, brings a wealth of experience into the role following historic stints with Ireland and the All Blacks. More recently, he was an assistant coach under Ian Foster during New Zealand’s run to last year’s World Cup final.

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During his coaching reign with Ireland, Schmidt led the men in green to their first-ever win over the All Blacks and their ascent to world number-one status for the first time in history.

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But this might be Schmidt’s biggest test. Following the Wallabies’ disastrous Rugby World Cup exit last year, the new boss will look to inspire Australia’s redemption as a rugby nation.

While the Wallabies’ first Test of the year against Wales (July 6 in Sydney) is just under five months away, Schmit had a chance to meet some of Australia’s best on Wednesday morning.

“Very casual chat with Joe but good to meet him,” Queensland Reds captain Tate McDermott told reporters in Auckland.

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“I’ve heard a lot about him from different people – New Zealanders and also Irish people – and heard nothing but good things about him.

“There’s still a lot of unknowns about the Wallabies environment, about who surrounds Joe and his staff, but that’ll come with time.

“It was great just to get to meet him really.”

The Wallabies are ninth on World Rugby’s official men’s rankings with last year’s World Cup rivals Wales (eighth) and Fiji (10th) sitting either side of them.

If history is anything to go by, especially recent history, then this is a tough mountain to scale for Schmidt and the yet-to-be-confirmed coaching group.

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But from a player’s point of view, the chance to make amends – or at least to star that process – begins in just over one week when the new Super Rugby Pacific season gets underway.

“It starts at Super Rugby,” McDermott added.

“There’s been a lot of change from what happened last year at all levels – executive level, new coach, new Super Rugby coaches.

“For me, it’s just about going back to Super Rugby and improving.

“We’ve got to upskill, we’ve got to get fitter, we’ve got to get faster and I guess it’s very rare for Wallabies to have such a big pre-season that we’ve had, so I guess that’s the other way you can look at it.

“We had three weeks pre-Christmas, from a Reds point of view, where we had new coaches, new staff and new players. We’ve got to make sure that when we’re getting that amount of tie, you put in that time to work, (that) you’re making sure you get the most out of it. That’s the way I’m looking at it.

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“I’ve got to play good footy anyway to make the Wallabies. It starts in a week and a half time.”

The Queensland Reds kick off their season at home against arch-rivals the NSW Waratahs in a “State of Origin” battle at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on February 24.

“It’s our version of State of Origin. The oldest rivalry pretty much in Australian sport,” McDermott said.

“A lot of people don’t know that but it’s big. There’s a lot in it, there’s a lot on the line.

“To have them in our home at Suncorp Stadium in a week and a half’s time, it’s brilliant.”

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Poorfour 4 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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