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FEATURE Australia 'should thank its lucky stars' for methodical Kiwi Schmidt

Australia 'should thank its lucky stars' for methodical Kiwi Schmidt
4 months ago

Good things often come in threes. As a schoolboy in London, I can recall only the third of three late-night buses stopping to pick me up. The other two flew past without a glance from the driver. It was at such times I would cherish Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s declaration in Letters Addressed to R.H. Horne, “The luck of the third adventure is proverbial”, and give thanks it was true.

That was written all the way back in 1839, but the origin of the phrase ‘third time’s a charm’ is probably even earlier, rooted in the Holy Trinity of Early Christianity. It is the bigwigs at the top of a recast Rugby Australia power-pyramid who will now be earnestly fingering their rosary beads, wringing their hands and praying the appointment of a New Zealander will produce the desired rugby miracle, third time around.

The first candidate was Crusaders coach Robbie Deans back in 2008. At the time Deans was the most successful club/provincial head coach on the face of planet rugby. He had led the Cantabrians to five Super Rugby titles in eight years and was the hottest ticket on the coaching market.

But towards the end of his six years in Australia, he had been translated laughingly as ‘Dingo’ Deans, the mock-Australian who could not be trusted with the fortunes of the national team. That most reliable barometer of Australian rugby pressure, Quade Cooper, had been shunned for a Twitter outburst in which he called the Wallaby environment ‘toxic’.

Joe Schmidt was unveiled to the media as Australia’s new head coach last week (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Despite taking Australia to a semi-final at the 2011 World Cup and posting a respectable overall win rate of 59%, ‘Dingo’ only won three out of the 18 matches he coached against the All Blacks, and that also attracted the opprobrium of Aussie media outlets and the coterie of ex-players commenting within them. Deans was done on both sides, well and truly cooked before his final exit after the 2013 series against the British and Irish Lions ever materialised.

The pattern was repeated after the 2019 World Cup with the arrival of ex-Chiefs head honcho Dave Rennie, who like Deans was probably the global flavour of the month. Rennie did not last the whole four-year cycle, dumped unceremoniously in favour of Eddie Jones less than nine months before the tournament began.

RA chairman Hamish McLennan did not mince his words at the changeover: “I would rather we have somebody who’s really tough [Eddie Jones] and we win World Cups, than we have a ‘Kumbayah’ session [with Dave Rennie on guitar], everyone holds hands, and we fail.”

Unless Australian rugby can back Schmidt to the hilt, there is no doubt he will fail, whatever the weight of proverbial wisdom.

The most experienced of any Australian coach failed more spectacularly than either of his Kiwi predecessors, but somehow that inconvenient truth has already been forgotten, and the ‘charm of the third adventure’ dispelled.

On his Triple M Breakfast with Marto, Margaux & Dan chat show, ex-Queensland and Wallaby full-back Greg Martin went at it hammer and tongs, before Schmidt has coached a single Wallaby game:

“We’ve had two Kiwis, and both times it’s ended in tears, and we’re about to go down the same track.

“We needed Stephen Larkham, we needed a bloke who has won a World Cup, [and] who is an Australian.

“We’ll get beaten by the Kiwis in July and August and everyone will go, ‘Oh well, that was a dud!’ We’ll sack him [Schmidt], and we’ll be back in the same position again.”

If you believed ‘Marto’, you would end up convinced Jones only failed because he had insufficient time to right the many wrongs inflicted on Australian rugby by Rennie.

That attitude is the problem in a nutshell. Unless Australian rugby can back Schmidt to the hilt, there is no doubt he will fail, whatever the weight of proverbial wisdom.

Schmidt has the credentials his forebears lacked. He has already coached internationally, and in both hemispheres for Ireland and New Zealand. He achieved several ‘firsts’ during his time in the Emerald Isle, scheming Ireland’s first-ever victory over the All Blacks and their maiden away wins on Argentine [2014] and South African [2016] soil. He achieved three Six Nations titles en route to Ireland’s inaugural number one world ranking in 2018. In terms of experience, he starts ahead of the game, rather than behind an 8-ball.

Schmidt scaled new heights in charge of Ireland, before helping steer New Zealand to the World Cup final (Photo by Brett Phibbs/Photosport)

He also starts with his feet rooted to terra firma. At his official unveiling at the Allianz Stadium in Sydney, he ticked all the right boxes.

Schmidt understands the urgency of the situation in Australia – tick:

“I am desperate for the Wallabies to be competitive and if I can help, that’s why I’m here. I think the global rugby family is desperate for the Wallabies to be where they need to be… I am desperate [for] the Wallabies [to be] really competitive in that World Cup and we get through to those really competitive playoff rounds.”

He wants to develop home-grown Australian coaches and a succession plan around them – tick:

“If we can get the job done over the next 18 months and get the momentum heading in the right direction, then I will feel like I’ve done my part and I will be happy to hand on. Or, if there are some Australian coaches that come through, I am really keen to try to help get some of [them] a little bit more experience as well, so they can pitch up and lead the Wallabies.”

He wants to select from home rather than abroad wherever possible – tick:

“There was nothing really stopping overseas selections in Ireland, but that would have been really detrimental to the Irish domestic competition.

“It is a very competitive market in Europe. So, we didn’t select anyone who wasn’t contracted in Ireland, and that worked really well for Ireland.

“It’d be great if we can select almost entirely [from] Australia… rather than chase guys from overseas.”

Unlike Jones, Schmidt will not promise the earth and fail to deliver. He will teach patterns of attack and defence which are easy to understand and digest.

He will play down expectation and not promise to turn water into wine immediately – tick:

“I am not great at selling dreams. Dreams are not tangible. I will probably be a little bit narrow, focused on trying to get to know the people, [getting] to help them perform at their best, combine it as best we can as a team… I don’t think we’re going to get to where we’d like to play immediately.”

Unlike Jones, Schmidt will not promise the earth and fail to deliver. He will teach patterns of attack and defence which are easy to understand and digest, but ones which depend on accuracy in individual technique and reward attention to detail.

He will ask for improvement in the kick-chase [New Zealand kicked six times more than the tournament average at the 2023 World Cup], and rely on Australia’s Aussie Rules background, just as he utilised the Gaelic football instincts of many players in Ireland.

He will teach a traditionally ‘Australian’ version of ball-control rugby once that requirement is met [New Zealand had possession for more minutes – over 20’ – than any other nation]. At the same time, he will look for strikes early in the phase count [New Zealand scored 70% of their tries in phases 1-3, compared to the tournament average of 59%]. He will not demand the miracle pass or offload [New Zealand’s ratio of 14 collisions to every offload compares to 9 to 1 by France and Scotland].

Above all, just like Rod Macqueen back in the noughties, he will not require his charges to shift ball wide and overstretch their skillsets until the spadework has been done on the interior of the field. The All Blacks’ best attacking work was all done on a vertical axis once Schmidt became involved in the coaching.

The following examples come from the 2023 Rugby Championship game against the Wallabies in Melbourne.

 

Aaron Smith hoists a box kick in the right 15m channel, Scott Barrett recovers the ball on the chase and then Smith top-spins a second kick into the same zone. Barrett tackles Tate McDermott on the very next lineout, with Shannon Frizell picking up the shrapnel for the score. Simple, but deadly effective footy, with no wastage:

It was same theme with ball in hand.

 

The initial cut is made off lineout by Will Jordan, but there is no attempt to shift wide on the next play despite the break. Hooker Codie Taylor cuts back off his right foot on second phase to keep play parallel to the 15m line and Frizell is still ploughing the same furrow four phases later.

What worked on the right, works just as well on the left.

 

 

After Mark Telea wins a high-ball contest, Taylor again breaks off his right foot to bring the ball back inside on the next play despite turnover ball. After a brief flirtation with midfield on the short attacking kick regathered by Jordan, the ball shifts back for Telea to pick up the thread on the left. Minimum risk, maximum reward.

 

 

From another turnover kick starter, Smith just pulls number six Frizell and number three Tyrel Lomax over to the 15-5m corridor to inter-pass with Telea down the channel. There is very little change all the way up to the Wallaby goal-line, with only Jordan and Scott Barrett added to the same tactical mix straight ‘up the pipe’.

Of the three Kiwis who either have, or are about to coach the Wallabies, Schmidt has much the best chance of success, despite the dire state of Australian rugby. He has the essential ingredient – the background of a man who had to build a nation up by its bootstraps and teach it how to beat the likes of New Zealand and South Africa, and win championships as if they had every right to expect a victorious outcome.

It will not be easy, and the opposition will be as much implicit and internal as it is overt and external. There will be those who will never accept that Australia needs a foreign coach in order to reclaim its historical status of one of rugby’s great superpowers.

Schmidt will start from the ground up, laying one brick methodically on top of another, both on and off the field. He will select from the home-based contingent wherever possible, and will not ask his charges to do more than their abilities warrant. He will push for that winning outcome, with a readiness to hand the reins back to a native Australian when the time is right. Australia should be thanking its lucky stars indeed to have such a man at the helm, and that the old proverb may yet be proved right.

Comments

201 Comments
T
The Late News 149 days ago

Three cheers for Mr Schmidt! Someone has to do it, I think he might be quite good.

L
Lionel 150 days ago

I genuinely dislike this kind of condescending article - on what basis should we thank our lucky stars by being lumped with a coach coming in and saying he will be successful because he is shooting really low?!

I'm sorry Nick, I really like your game analysis - but this is a complete misread of the situation and tone in Australian rugby.

The misread is truly revealed in the comment about leveraging the Australian rules background! I mean, zero! Precisely zero of these players have an Australian rules background beyond a casual Park game. Its a completely ignorant statement that any Aussie understands. They will almost all however have a rugby league background - how will he leverage that inside? Crickets…

If Schmidt doesn't perform - there is absolutely no point having him.

There is no justification for having a foreign coach if his performance is not significantly better than the local options. Because in that instance, not only are we not getting better results - but we are also preventing the local options from developing. And on to of that the games profile is further harmed.

It's a triple negative.

D
Dave 151 days ago

As a fella who loves the brillant game that rugby is more than the Wallabies nation I Western reside in…I applaud all the recent sacking and new appointments made by Herbert and Waugh.
In 2024 Australian rugby needs a truly amazing professional coach to lead us back onto competitive park. It’s long been a professional game where the birth country of a coach is irrelevant. It is seriously long overdue to say that idiots like Martin and every other cry baby still wearing nappies to grow up and smell the reality of modern sport. Stop whinging like a spoilt petulant child who does not receive the lolly. The wonderful game deserves better than a delusional old school Sydney owns it attitude..

Good luck Joe…ignore the idiot press and I wish you well

A
Adrian 151 days ago

Thanks Nick

I like your points about a Schmidt influenced team keeping on going straight for a few phases (even on a break or turnover) before going wide. Well thought out and actually far less predictable.

To do this of course we need game managers on the field. Otherwise it’s an Eddie Jones play by numbers fiasco.

I think we actually do have the tight 5 and a couple of centre options to keep oppositions on the back foot, but we lack on field decision makers to decide when to keep going and when to spread it. Cooper is the only guy I can obviously see. Last year was so disrupted that it wasn't obvious whether there were options coming through at #10 and #9. I’m hopeful that for Pasitoa and Will Harrison, but 2024 is too soon. They both have to get in front of Donnalson and Edmed respectively to have a chance.

Perhaps Gordon will recover?….and what sort of a decision maker is he?

McDermont could maybe call it all from 9,…but only if Tuopo, Bell and Skeleton are on there and on the rampage. Otherwise he is easy pickings.

It’s all possible mid you, and I for one think that Schmidt can do it if anyone can

M
Mitch 151 days ago

I tell you what Nick, Marto seems to think that Stephen Larkham is the 2nd coming of Graham Henry, Rassie Erasmus and Rod Macqueen as an international coach. His reasons for wanting Larkham to replace Eddie Jones are flimsy at best. Larkham has done nothing as a head coach to warrant serious consideration at this moment. ‘Bernie’ was a great player and as we know not every great player becomes a great coach. Think Carel Du Plessis. Yes, Larkham won the 99 World Cup but that shouldn’t matter in terms of evaluating somebody as a head coach.

Marto’s comments about Schmidt’s appointment disappoint me. Rugby has been the sporting punching bag here for 5-6 years now by people who follow the 13 a side game and the media company that Marto used to work for (News Limited) have taken great delight in the code’s struggles here. A rugby man, a man who loves rugby, would have pointed to Schmidt’s impressive track record as a head coach as well as his ability to get quick improvement out of the teams he has worked with as a head coach or as an assistant. A fair minded person would give Schmidt a chance before moaning about the appointment.

Schmidt’s track record is excellent, which guarantees nothing but it’s a cause for optimism. Robbie Deans was the best coach in the world who hadn’t yet been in charge of a national team when he got the gig in December of 2007. However, all he knew as a coach was the Crusaders and the All Blacks. Schmidt is more rounded in that sense and this will hopefully give him an advantage.

m
mitch 151 days ago

Joe was very pragmatic in his press conference; he sees the need for significant improvement at Super Rugby level, alignment within the 5 Super Rugby teams and coaches need to improve. If nothing else the players shouldn’t be running around like headless chooks this year. :-)

M
Mzilikazi 151 days ago

“Of the three Kiwis who either have, or are about to coach the Wallabies, Schmidt has much the best chance of success”. Agree, Nick, and by some margin over Deans and Rennie. To begin with , Schmidt comes with a long and strong international coaching pedigree. The others only had provincial experience. They were both new to international coaching.

It is good to see your positive article today, alongside another last week, by a certain Mr Jones, on another site.

I have been appalled by the tone of some of the articles on that other site, and also by some of the comments flowing from too many people, though tbh, they are not people whose opinions I would give much credence too.

For mine, I am just so relieved the WB’s now have a truly world class coach to gake them onward, and I would think on an upward trajectory. With the players we have to select from, and under Joe Schmidt’s experienced hand, I am more optimistic for the WB’s than i have been for many years.

D
David 151 days ago

well hamish ended up like eddie thrown out buy australian rugby. joe will do well as long as the australian rugby union and its board lets him of course

J
Jon 151 days ago

I hope Joe doesn’t go for some such formulaic approach. It will certainly be a huge ask to find them maximizing their potential by BIL time, but its such a tough question to ask whether he gets them going down his tried and true path, and them performing as good as could be expected, or he analyzes what he’s got to use and takes it more slowly, but with a better peak perhaps for the WC (or a better position for someone else to take over with 2 years to turn them into a final product).

I certainly think an impact driven style would suit the players that he would have available, funnily enough, how Eddie thought to take the side when he first took over, just at a more methodical pace transitioning to it perhaps. By that, I mean try to use their explosive players in a very orchestrated and setup way. If they can play at pace and precession for even a few phases, Aussie just has so much strike power they can easily turn into a world threat if there’s somebody to manage them around the field and on defence. It certainly doesn’t matter if its “not the Australian way”, play how the players want to play and are good at, and importantly, do this with some alignment at Super Rugby level as well. Good luck to all involved, there looks to be a lot of skilled and sensible people in the right positions now.

P
Pecos 151 days ago

The Wallabies issue is their pack. As was the All Blacks’ pack under Foster. So his forwards coaching team will be key. A Mike Cron-like jewel, somewhere? Kiwis & Aussies have always been able to score a try. While Scmidt no doubt had an attack role, it was his breakdown work on both sides of the ball that helped raise the ABs.

Schmidt signing up for only 18 months, with an option depending on how it goes has a touch of “one foot in one foot out” imo. It seems he’s committed to helping out in the short term. Deans & Rennie were both seen as long term investments. Understandable for Schmidt given his ongoing family health matters.

As a first step this is great news for Australia as they rebuild & reset. ABs & BILs beware.

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