The Joe Schmidt Interview: 'Never say never' for Donnacha Ryan's Ireland chances Updated / Sunday, 16 Apr 2017 17:55
In a wide-ranging interview, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt discusses Donnacha Ryan's future, the World Cup draw and claim he meddles with provincial team selection.
Donnacha Ryans Ireland prospects if he moves to Racing in France
It’s a good question and it is disappointing if Donnacha goes because I think he’s really grown into himself in the last short while. He had a long-term injury that kept him out of the game for a long time and that was incredibly frustrating for him and for the IRFU who were looking to get him involved for as much as they could.
For Donnacha, he’ll make some personal decisions. Sometimes people forget the human factor in decision-making. There are relationships involved, there are life experiences involved. As much as we try to keep everyone inside playing in Ireland, cause we want to do that to support the provinces. If we don’t manage the players well and we start picking players from outside of Ireland then other players are likely to go because they will see that they can still get selected by the national team.
We never say never because there are some really good Irish players playing outside of Ireland but at the same time we want to keep investing in the people who are investing in our provincial game because in the end we need to keep our provincial game strong for our national team to be successful as well.
Importance of experience abroad
I’d like to think I’m better [having travelled]. I certainly have had more life experiences and I’ve experienced a number of different cultures, including different team cultures. I think that as a result you grow and you get to understand how different people operate and how they think, what motivates them and how they best learn and so I think you’re learning all the time.
Players are no different than other people, they want to challenge themselves, they want to do new things sometimes. You know, [they say] the grass is always greener and as we’ve found with a lot of the players who have left that it hasn’t been as green as first thought.
There are a number of players who have left and have either returned or have probably not had the success or the really positive experiences that they were looking for.
I guess that’s a reminder to the players here that they are in a pretty good spot here with the quality of coaching that they get. I think it’s super in the provinces, the conveyor belt that is always coming through that is challenging them, from the academies in the provinces.
Even the move to Limerick for Munster, the facility they’ve got there is fantastic; Leinster have got a purpose-built facility; Connacht’s facility has really improved and, of course, in Kingspan, Ulster have got a fantastic training facility as well.
They are catered for in a number of ways that contribute to positive growth and performance.
Going away is a growth opportunity but it can also be a little bit stifling if you’re out of your comfort zone and you don’t settle and you don’t get the opportunities because it’s a ruthless profession and if you don’t get immediate success on arrival then you can get put back a few steps and miss that growth opportunity.
Securing a top-four ranking for World Cup draw
May 10 is a time we will ensure we avoid New Zealand England and Australia. You could still end up in an incredibly tough pool if the draw doesn’t go your way. You could end up with South Africa or Argentina or any of the other big teams, France, Wales, Scotland.
With Argentina being ranked ninth, and the way they always come together really well at World Cup time, whoever gets that pool is still going to be under the pump a little bit but at least we’ve given ourselves the first step forward into Rugby World Cup ’19 with little bit of positivity.
The summer tour to USA and Japan
It will be good to get across and play in the Japanese conditions. I think we have mid-afternoon kick-offs in the middle of summer, so it will be a little but more brutal, humidity-wise than it will be when we get across for the World Cup.
Even just to get an introduction to the cultural experience that it will be; the travel and how far away and adapting from that, and also, expanding the group a little bit.
Since Rugby World Cup 2015 we’ve had 20 new caps, used over 60 players in recent times. It means that we feel that we can cover this tour a little bit more than we probably could have in the past.
With the Lions guys going away we still feel we’ve got a cohort who’ve spent a bit of time with us and there may be one or two others who haven’t where we’ll take this opportunity to include them.
The whole theme for the summer tour this year is long-term planning for short-term success.
We know we’ve got to make sure we can be as competitive as we can to get the results we need in those three Test matches, but at the same time that we’ve got an eye for the future, that we’re taking some players to Japan that we think will potentially return to Japan in two years’ time.
Building the panel with less than 25 games until RWC19
One of the things that we’ve done is brought guys in a few times before they’ve gone into match squads and there’s a few guys that are in that category at the moment and some guys that have gotten very close; the likes of Rory Scannell got very close to a match-day squad recently during the Six Nations and the autumn.
At the same time I think one of the really important places for us to see the players play is in the provinces.
They are all going really well at the moment. It was fantastic, during the Six Nations period, there was only one match lost out of 17, 18 matches because there was a few catch-up matches. To have that happen while we’re also working away in the Six Nations and we’re sharing the resource.
I think that really was for us a consolidation of a fair bit of work that has gone on over the last 12 months to try and make sure that we have the best cross-pollination of ideas and the best sharing of resources.
It was fantastic to watch the two quarter-finals with Leinster and Munster qualifying into the European semi-finals. We’ve got three of the top four in the Pro12 at the moment and at the same time Connacht are there.
Hopefully, they will still qualify into Champions Cup next year, which would be fantastic.
For us, having the best quality of performance within the provinces, getting some really good coaching from the provincial coaches, which we know is happening at the moment, that’s the foundation that we need.
In the end, we get them in a match week, pretty much. They come in on a Sunday evening, they’ve got to play the following Saturday, you’re actually relatively limited in what you can do with individual development. All you can do really is get them organised. You know they are already passionate because they’re playing for their country. That’s one of the easy things about being a national coach, there’s no shortage of motivation from the group you have.
Relationship between IRFU and provinces
You try to keep it as joined-up as possible. You’re sharing your key resource; our biggest asset is our player-base. There’s always going to be a bit of contention about who should be used where or whenever.
I think the provincial coaches would tell you they have the best autonomy we can possibly allow. I found it ironic last week that a commentator was saying ‘despite the IRFU not allowing players to be available for selection’ when the selection was entirely made by the provincial coach. That’s because he’s got an eye on what’s coming up over the next few weeks and I think it’s just smart management.
If you’re not managing people smart then you start to probably compromise yourself in some of those really big games you’re aiming for. And as well as that, to a degree, you can compromise your relationship with your players. You are trying to look after them and that’s one of the things that keeps them in this country, that they are looked after.
We got to make sure we try to continue that because our player-base, while we’re trying to grow it all the time is not incredibly broad, not like the English or the French where they can draw upon 12 professional teams or 30 professional teams in France. It is about best management of that. The provincial coaches are doing a super job of it, and staying incredible competitive at the same time.
On cl[b]aims that you pick the Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht teams[/b]
Do they really say that? Oh, wow, they haven’t said it to me. I probably choose not to [read the papers] but I did hear the commentary last week, which did astound me considering that I’d probably an hour’s meeting with that coach and he told me what his team was on the Thursday and we’d had a really good conversation and a really positive one and it just astounds me that someone can be so definitive about something and inaccurate at the same time.
Look, I wouldn’t even want the job of picking those teams. I think there’s some incredibly difficult decisions that have to be made on some of those teams.
I was looking at the Leinster back row, for example, there’s some conundrums there that are great to have but I’m glad I’m not having to pick them.
All the coaches, I think Pat [Lam’s] done a super job, obviously over the last three to four years, he’s been there. I think Les [Kiss] getting Jono [Gibbs] on board for next year and I think they’ve had a lot of injuries to key players, which have made it a battle but they’ve still scrambled into the top four, and hopefully they can hang in there and get to a Pro12 semi-final.
Obviously Leinster and Munster are flying along at the moment.
Returning Munster-bound exiles Chris Farrell and JJ Hanrahan
Yeah, I stay in touch with as many as I can, [Racing's] James Hart is another one. Scrum-half is a position we don’t have huge resources as far as experience is concerned. Conor [Murray] has amassed a lot of experience but as far as Kieran [Marmion] and Luke [McGrath], who were involved in the England game, they have very few international experiences. Kieran’s spent quite a bit of time in our environment and has been growing all the time, not physically, he’s not the biggest man around.
I do think that getting James back, I think Chris Farrell’s done really well in Grenoble and JJ, obviously, he left with the prospect of play 10 regularly for Northampton. That didn’t become the reality for him and he’s coming back into a very competitive 10 spot where, I’m not sure what Ian Keatley is doing next year but he’s actually filled in for Tyler Bleyendaal incredibly well, the Glasgow away game, I thought he did superbly to get them over the line. That’s what we want, we want players coming in to competitive environments, competing for spots because then you’re more likely to get the best out of them.
Reflecting on the 2017 Six Nations
It’s a missed opportunity because we know how close we were. Coming back from 21-5 against Scotland to go 22-21 up, and to have two or three really good chances to finish that, with, potentially, what would have been a bonus-point try is incredibly frustrating in retrospect.
As is the Wales game. Wales were massively up for that game against us in the Millennium [Stadium]. The conditions were a lot slippier that people would have realised, particularly with the roof closed. Even after a really positive start, I thought, by us, when they got their first try and then the yellow card was incredibly frustrating.
With all that set aside we score a great driving lineout try and get penalised accurately by the referee but I think it’s going over anyway, and we’re probably with 15 minutes to go, we’re a whisker away from being a point ahead.
Either of those potentially change the whole Six Nations for us.
At the same time, there was some really good elements of it. We made probably the second most clean line-breaks; we certainly opened up the pitch a few times and go some great attack on the edges. I think Keith Earls got two slashing runs in that first half against England where I honestly felt at the time that would maybe come back to bite us, that we didn’t get over the line off either of those.
But we did get a fantastic reach-out score from Iain Henderson, which, thankfully, was enough in the context of England that day.
We never really looked like we were going to concede a try apart from one bit of broken play where Kieran Marmion got back and behind the [defence] line to put Eliot Daly on the ground after Owen Farrell had kicked through.
You always look back at those sort of things and feel that it was a missed opportunity but at the same time, right from the start, we set a top-two [target].
England were flying before the Six Nations started and at least to prevent them extending the record, it’s probably not a record we share, but we do have an input with both the record holders, having stopped them and that would be one of the things in the last six months, having beaten Australia, New Zealand and England, the top three teams above us in the world, it’s probably going to be something that can give us a bit of confidence going forward