NEVER LET IT be said that Joe Schmidt doesn’t practice what he preaches.
The Ireland coach is in London today, his first away trip in his new job and a trophy up for grabs in less than 36 hours.
But Schmidt wouldn’t be Schmidt if he wasn’t sticking rigidly to his usual processes – no matter how many hours it may take.
“I’m just looking at our opponents, I’m looking at what we’re doing,” says the Kiwi, “I don’t tend to sleep too much anyway, so I don’t bother trying. I’m just looking at trying to find that millimeter or that half an inch that can give us maybe just a little bit of an advantage.
“At the same time, the players are the ones that have to deliver that advantage and they’ve been incredibly responsive and hard working so far, so that probably gives me the confidence to get the four or five hours sleep I do get.”
A common trend over the past month or so that Ireland’s players have been in camp has been that every player presented for interview is asked about the impact Schmidt has had on them personally.
No doubt TheScore.ie has been the guilty party on more than one occasion – it’s certainly an intriguing angle – but we also get the sense that maybe some players might prefer to speak about their game like they were masters of there own destiny rather than being manipulated from an Xbox controller in the coaching box.
It was noticeable then, that Schmidt’s voice yesterday continued another trend ushered in after the win over Wales. Over and over again, he would separate the playing squad from the coaching staff when there was pressure and praise to be dished out.
After taking queries about his early suggestion that Clermont away had been his toughest coaching assignment to date (not the All Blacks, Joe?) and how it would compare to this trip, he quickly brought the subject back to the men in the front line.
“Thankfully, I’ve got a lot of players who can draw on experience of Twickenham itself in the Test arena.
“It’s very much a player-driven environment, they set the standard. I find them incredibly responsive when we’re looking at strategy and looking at what we need to deliver technically and tactically.
“When it comes to actually controlling and directing the group it’s fantastic that it doesn’t have to be about what experiences I’ve had or what I need to bring to the table. It’s very much their experiences and there is a good core of experienced players there to lead that and give the young players the confidence that they’ve been there before and know what it takes.”
Source: ©INPHO/James Crombie
Despite building up his players and their experience at the top level, there was also a slight philosophical streak within Schmidt’s sentiment:
“Unfortunately you can go to a place like Twickenham, do the best you can, play really well and then not get the result, because that’s the calibre of opposition and the nature of Test rugby.
“One thing I am confident of is, we’re not going to be short of effort. We are certainly going to roll our sleeves up and get the best performance that we possibly can. If it isn’t good enough, I’d be hopeful that it’s not too far away and we’re still in the mix in the wider Six Nations, but we’d dearly love to get a result and get the Triple Crown.”
Make no mistake, however; mention of a trophy is not a sign of Schmidt veering off course and getting ahead of himself or losing his humble veneer. Winning has always been the over-arching goal for the New Zealander and if there is to be victory at Twickenham tomorrow, it will bring silverware.
Back to the players then, because they will be the ones who must try and shut out that shining shield of distraction from their mind and get on with their regular job.
“What has been good is that the players have stayed really process-focused – ‘these are the things we need to do well’. And as long as you’re concentrating on those things there is less of a distraction about the whole aura of the match; the atmosphere that’s going to be in the stadium, the cacophony of sound that’s going to potentially distract players.
“If they are process-focused and are just looking after what they need to do on the field, then hopefully we can deflect a little bit of that anxiety. Now, inevitably there is going to be a little bit of anxiety, but part of that is a positive if you can channel that into your motivation.”
One more sleep.