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FEATURE How Joe Schmidt can make the Wallabies competitive again

How Joe Schmidt can make the Wallabies competitive again
4 months ago

At the 2023 World Cup, various All Blacks players joked with media that the biggest fear they had at the tournament was bumping into assistant coach Joe Schmidt in the corridor of the team hotel.

They said that the danger of that was being accosted by Schmidt for 20 minutes, and being subjected to the most incredibly detailed analysis of their strengths and weaknesses and ways in which they could improve their respective games.

It was all said with love and respect as Schmidt made an enormously favourable impression within the All Blacks and the players were genuinely amazed at his capacity to extract minute detail from every aspect of their work and his passion to see them improve.

Even in New Zealand, where rugby analysis is famed for its intelligence, Schmidt stood out as something different – a coach with an extraordinary capacity to dig deeper than anyone else into the technicalities of cleaning out, passing, tackling, off-loading and just about everything else.

Joe Schmidt
Schmidt’s decisive, driven approach and attention to detail helped the All Blacks to the RWC final (Photo Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

His impact within the All Blacks, whom he joined as attack coach in August 2022, was undeniable. He came in when the All Blacks were a bit of a shambles having lost two of their last seven tests, and after he arrived, they would go on to win nine of their next 11, and of course, go on to make the final of the World Cup.

Schmidt brought more than just forensic detail, though. He brought a decisive edge, too, with his unwillingness to accept standards he didn’t think were high enough.

As former All Blacks fly-half, Richie Mo’unga, revealed at the World Cup: “He’s aware of things that make a team tick really well.

“A few times I’ve seen an angry Joe Schmidt as well, which is pretty cool, he really wants to see the best in his players. I think that is the coolest thing about him.”

As the dust from the last year settles, it becomes apparent that Jones was hired as much to generate media headlines as he was to coach the team.

The words that were continuously used to describe Schmidt were detailed, driven and relentless and it’s these precise qualities that Rugby Australia wants to see unleashed now that they have signed the 58-year-old as Wallabies coach.

Schmidt, on the day he was unveiled as Australia’s latest great hope, described himself as “pragmatic and boring” and having endured the most turbulent 10 months under the stewardship of Eddie Jones, the Wallabies will embrace his lack of flamboyance and desire to keep out of the media.

As the dust from the last year settles, it becomes apparent that Jones was hired as much to generate media headlines as he was to coach the team.

Former Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan was convinced that the real battleground for the sport was in Sydney’s competitive media market which is dominated by the NRL and to a lesser extent the AFL and A-League.

Eddie Jones
Jones had an undeniable gift for generating headlines but his Wallabies had a disastrous World Cup (Photo Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

Any headlines Jones could win, or back page leads he could generate were seen as a massive win for a code that was struggling to engage its audience and win new fans.

McLennan’s theory was that controversy would build interest and that in turn would lead to more revenue. And the one thing Jones could do in his sleep was create a headline and give the media a story. Controversy was Eddie’s speciality.

But it was a flawed concept, or at least to be successful, it needed Jones to also be on top of the core aspects of his role – improving skill-sets, identifying talent, building a strong high-performance culture and coming up with detailed blueprints for the Wallabies to create an identifiable style of rugby.

No one is denying Jones’ passion or desire to rebuild Australian rugby or that his plan to invest in youth and try to rebuild a broken player development pathway was a bad idea.

We had some great communication and talking around the game, but when you go into a game with no real plan or structure and no system, that makes it really difficult as a playmaker.

He had the right intent and the right strategic vision, but his execution lacked intelligence and consistency, and he was perhaps too focused on the bigger picture of rebranding Australian rugby without ensuring that the team understood their roles and the gameplan in intricate detail.

This was best illustrated by the comments veteran fly-half Quade Cooper made to the Sydney Morning Herald weeks after Jones had resigned.

“One of the things I struggled with in these last six months leading into the World Cup was we didn’t really have a plan,” Cooper revealed.

Quade Cooper
Cooper was omitted from Australia’s RWC squad as Jones opted for less experienced options (Photo Morgan Hancock/Getty Images)

“We had some great communication and talking around the game, but when you go into a game with no real plan or structure and no system, that makes it really difficult as a playmaker.

“Everybody is looking to each other. Are you going to do that? Am I in that ruck? It was quite tough.”Schmidt is therefore the no-nonsense, low-profile figure that many in the Wallabies and the wider rugby fraternity believe can make a genuine impact in hauling Australia up the world rankings and restoring public faith after the disastrous era of Jones.

He’ll build strong foundations and one criticism that will never be laid at the door of Schmidt is a failure to plan and prepare adequately.

Whatever the Wallabies end up being under Schmidt, they won’t lack for understanding of what he wants from them, and they will all be aware that if the game is to grow in popularity, it will need to produce results on the field.

What Schmidt has also said he’ll do is nurture the next generation of Australian coaches. To some extent Jones tried to do the same thing, but he kept burning his way through assistants and no-one seemed to want to work with him for overly long.

Schmidt won’t be looking for a quick rebuild but will instead invest heavily in improving the foundation skills of the Wallabies and give them the base structures of a strong set-piece, accurate cleanout and straight running lines that they never had under Jones.

His Wallabies will initially lack frills and flamboyance, because all teams Schmidt has coached do. He builds everything around strong, accurate execution of the basics and the Wallabies, almost certainly, will be a more direct and physically confrontational team in 2024 than they ever were in 2023.

And perhaps more importantly, what Schmidt has also said he’ll do is nurture the next generation of Australian coaches.

To some extent Jones tried to do the same thing, but he kept burning his way through assistants and no-one seemed to want to work with him for overly long.

On the eve of the World Cup he had to draft in former NRL prop Jason Ryles as attack coach, something which Cooper also had much to say about: “Key individuals around Eddie lacked significant expertise,” he said.

“As players, we tried to buy into what he was preaching, as not doing so would paint us as a detriment. However, common sense was hard to ignore, and it was remarkable that Rugby Australia couldn’t see it.

“For instance, Jason Ryles, a rugby league prop, served as an attack coach for the Wallabies at a World Cup. How much did he truly know about rugby attack?”

Schmidt, on the other hand, has laid out a clear plan on how he wants to things to play out. He has been contracted for two years and has said it will be a case of assessing the lie of the land in 2025 to determine the next move.

Joe Schmidt
Schmidt has been hired to rebuild the Wallabies in time for the 2025 Lions tour (Photo Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

“If we get the job done over the next 18 months and get the momentum heading in the right direction, then I will feel like I have done my part of it,” Schmidt said.

“Or if some Australian coaches come through, I’m really keen to help get some of the Australian coaches more experience as well so they can pitch up and lead the Wallabies.

“It’s certainly not a hit and run mission. For both RA and myself it is a good fit.

“If you were going to make a change before the World Cup, you don’t want to do it a year out.

“You want to make sure you’ve got a decent run at it but at the same time if we get to the end of the British and Irish Lions series [which concludes on 2 August, 2025] and things are going in the right direction and discussion amongst the board and Phil [Waugh) and Pete [Horne] is that the best thing is for me to stay, then that’s a bridge we will cross then.”

Australia has had many false dawns in the last two decades, but the arrival of Schmidt – steady, determined, detailed and devoid of controversy – has given the Wallabies the sort of leader they need to painstakingly rebuild and return to the top table.

Comments

14 Comments
W
Willie 144 days ago

There is considerable talent available for Schmidt and I suspect the turn around will be much sooner than many think. The shame of all of this is Rennie was not given the opportunity to display what he was building.

G
Greg 145 days ago

Great move by Canny Joe Schmidt! It’s not a 4 year job. Oz have got the cattle, particularly in the forwards - Bell, Tupou, Skelton, Frost, McReight, Valetini and Hooper (not the 7s player) would all make the ABs 23 - and by the end of the year Amatosero might be surpassing Skelton . If Joe can find halves who deliver his game plan, he’s going to achieve a rapid renaissance in the Wallaby test results, because they’re not short of international quality centres and outside backs either. Australia to win at least one against the ABs this year and a good bet against the Lions next year, then a real threat at the next RWC. (I’m a kiwi and AB fan by the way.)

j
john 145 days ago

The idea that some bitter and twisted Hobbit living in NZ can coach a Wallaby team by Zoom, is just so utterly and completely ridiculous, only kiwis who love the idea of Schmidt sabotaging the Wallabies or Tah fans knowing their players will get ‘'special picks’' again, like the hopeless Porecki and Donaldson, would support it.

It is beyond a joke.

T
Turlough 145 days ago

“Even in New Zealand, where rugby analysis is famed for its intelligence”

Ireland beat NZ in series in NZ. Analysis: ‘Ireland are arrogant’

M
Mitch 145 days ago

“If we get the job done over the next 18 months and get the momentum heading in the right direction, then I will feel like I have done my part of it,” Schmidt said.

In my eyes, job done for Schmidt is the Wallabies becoming a genuinely respected team in and outside of their own country. I see that as a 4 year job, not an 18 month one. A good first 18 months will hopefully see Schmidt stay on post the Lions tour.

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