Super Saturday’s battle within a battle in Cardiff is the stand-out duel to savour this weekend. Two 50-something Kiwis going at it head-to-head one final time in the Six Nations in charge of their adopted countries. Bring it on.
Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt have been trading heavy blows on the international circuit since 2014 in an engrossing rivalry that has caught the imagination.
“Warren is a deep thinker and I know for a fact he’s the only coach that gets under Joe Schmidt’s skin,” claimed former Ireland player Luke Fitzgerald this week about a sideline dynamic adding immense intrigue to the Wales versus Ireland 2019 championship finale.
“Wales is the one game Joe wants to win every year. That Warren Gatland thing has been going on for a while, whether he [Schmidt] wants to prove himself against him – there’s a battle within a battle.”
Their championship head-to-head score is deadlocked. Cardiff wins for Wales in 2015 and 2017, Dublin wins for Ireland in 2014 and 2018, with the 2016 match at the Aviva drawn. Saturday’s result will tip this scale, but this is a match-up with a more far-reaching legacy to decide.
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A win for Wales will hand Gatland his third championship title, pulling him level with Schmidt’s trophy haul, but it would also see him surpass his rival in terms of win percentage in the tournament.
Schmidt is currently on 72.4% (21 wins in 29) across his six championships with Ireland, marginally ahead of Gatland’s 71.4% (35 wins in 49) for his 10 championships with Wales.
An Irish win, then, would leave Schmidt finishing out in front and heading off into the Cardiff night air savouring landing the final blow in an intense rivalry between two North Island Kiwis born just 400kms and 23 months apart during the 60s.
SIX NATIONS LEGACIES
1. CLIVE WOODWARD’S ENGLAND 1998-2004 — 78.7%: P33 W26 L7; Titles 3: 2000, 2001, 2003 Grand Slam;
2. BERNARD LAPORTE’S FRANCE 2000-2007 — 75.0%: P40 W30 L10; Titles 4: 2002 Grand Slam, 2004 Grand Slam, 2006, 2007;
3. JOE SCHMIDT’S IRELAND 2014-2019 — 72.4%: P29 W21 L7 D1; Titles 3: 2014, 2015, 2018 Grand Slam;
4. WARREN GATLAND’S WALES 2008-2019 (Lions breaks 2013 & 2017) — 71.4%: P49 W35 L13 D1; Titles 2 (2008 Grand Slam, 2012 Grand Slam).
Whatever the outcome, neither coach will walk away with the best statistical strike rate in the championship. Clive Woodward had a 78.7% success rate (26 wins in 33 games) in his seven championships in charge of England, while Bernard Laporte signed off on exactly 75% (30 wins in 40 matches) after his eight tournaments at the helm in France.
However, given how punishing the sport has become in recent years, Jim Hamilton believes what the two New Zealanders have achieved in their respective European countries puts them on a pedestal looking down on what Woodward and Laporte recorded in the Six Nations with their teams.
“The way they have conducted themselves, the way they have have brought success from start to finish, the way the players speak about them is the reason why they are out in front,” said the former Scotland second row to RugbyPass.
Hamilton is immensely envious of what both Gatland and Schmidt have constructed. During his own Test career, he only won five of his 35 Six Nations matches, a paltry 15.7% that didn’t include even the sniff of a win over either Gatland or Schmidt.
Six times he was on the losing side versus Gatland in the championship, twice versus Schmidt, and he has nothing but admiration for the levels of consistency both New Zealanders have brought to their Celtic nation jobs.
“I don’t know much about Laporte, I saw what he did in terms of results. I get that, and I get what Woodward did, but I don’t think they have done anything like what Gatland has done for Wales and what Schmidt has done for Ireland. Their success and the way they are thought about by the fans and within their communities, they are both treasured.
“For me, Gatland just slightly outweighs Schmidt for the longevity he has with Wales. You also have to look at the Lions as well. We’re talking about Wales and Ireland but what Gatland did on that Lions tour to New Zealand in 2017 sums up the man. Competing against the nation he was from, that was in his heart and his blood and he felt the pressures of going back to New Zealand.
“That’s why Gatland just outweighs it when making a comparison, but you’re talking about two quality coaches and if you’re looking at the game at the weekend it’s almost impossible to call.
“In club rugby there are many coaches who have come over from New Zealand who haven’t been a huge success but these two, Schmidt and Gatland, have massively broken the mould at Test level. Not just the way they clearly are good coaches but also the way they have gone about their work under the radar.
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 11, 2019
“There is no pantomime around what they are doing and the way they have represented their respective countries has been extraordinary. It says loads for them not only for their quality as coaches but also as blokes.
“It’s worth putting that point across because you hear about other coaches and there has been headlines made about things they say and the way they carry themselves.
“It’s a real credit to Schmidt and Gatland and the heritage they have come from in New Zealand that they have been able to transfer a skillset that on paper is really difficult to transfer in club rugby.
“Huge credit to both and it’s quite poignant there is this sub-plot to this game on the weekend, that it’s both their Six Nations finale. It’s going to be really interesting.”
Adding to the curiosity surrounding their reputations is how they each chase results with very different styles of coaching. “If you look at the way they go about their work they are quite contrasting in terms of their approach.
“I hear Schmidt is very hands on, very serious and very straight talking in the way he does things. Everything goes through him. He’s on the pitch delivering the ideas, he’s the one speaking to the players constantly.
Grand Slam on the line in a packed Principality Stadium!
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 15, 2019
“Gatland is a little bit different. Gatland lets his coaches deliver the message a lot more. Gatland relies on guys like Alun Wyn Jones and the leaders on that team, he puts a lot of trust and faith in those players. I have not heard Schmidt doesn’t do that, I’m just contrasting the way which I have heard they work.
“I’m a massive fan of both. Schmidt is probably a little bit more serious than Gatland, but I haven’t heard of any weaknesses. Normally as an ex-player and one that is working in the media with players, you sometimes hear whispers.
“There could be one out of 100 that say, ‘I don’t like that coach, didn’t rate him.’ In the hundreds of players that I have played with, spoken to, interacted with, speak to now, I have not heard a bad word said about either of them.
“Schmidt has got an angry streak that he likes to put across and that’s an natural thing for him, but I think that is good if you put that across in the right way and you’re straight with the players.
“Like what Darren Cave has been saying, Schmidt will tell you directly you’re not playing because of these reasons, these are things you need to work on. He’s black and white in terms of what a player needs to do to get better.”
Adding to hype surrounding the Kiwi pair is the novelty of how they are professional sports coaches who will walk away from their jobs on their terms, not via the sack. Both have said they are quitting at the end of this year’s World Cup, getting out at the top with their reputations very much intact.
“Wales and Ireland are two nations that demand success, they demand that their teams play well and are conducted in the right way,” continued Hamilton. “In rugby we’re starting to see more of the way football sacks its coaches.
“You saw the way Stuart Lancaster got ridiculed out of England after their failings at the World Cup. Yes, he was the front man for it, but a lot of that was player driven. It speaks volumes for Schmidt and Gatland that they are leaving on their terms, but you must keep reiterating the fact they are from New Zealand.”
Only time can definitively tell which coach will be be missed more by their team, but Hamilton hazards a guess that the Welsh will pine more for Gatland than the Irish will for Schmidt.
“It’s hypothetical… but Gatland has been there for so long and has implemented so many things into that team that he is going be missed more. Although (Wayne) Pivac has been doing the Scarlets, it’s a full change of guard.
“Andy Farrell has been in the Ireland set-up with Schmidt and he is going to be able to seamlessly carry on the legacy and only make subtle changes with players over time. It’s a difficult one to call, but Gatland is one that is going to be missed the most.”
WATCH BELOW: Jim Hamilton and the Rugby Pod team on the Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland
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