How Joe Schmidt will make his mark on the All Blacks

Leon MacDonald and Joe Schmidt in Blues training. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

Still later, we enter Room 101 more fully, with an inadvertent critique of the current New Zealand selection policy:

“As brutal as it sounds, one of the things about a selector is that if you commit the team to making a selection based on loyalty, or something that maybe isn’t in the best interest of a team, then the team members see right through it. of that. pretty quickly and that can be tricky in an incredibly interdependent environment.”

Those comments have all the makings of a new broom sweeping, rather than a humble assistant adding a strange whisper or suggestion from an anonymous corner of the room.

Joe Schmidt once referred to himself as “a very small cog” in the wheel of Irish rugby, but the players themselves certainly didn’t experience it that way. Neither do the coaches and administrators of the four provinces of Ireland. His influence was felt in all aspects of development throughout the country, mainly for the good.

The players themselves were never in any doubt as to who was in charge. They felt the director’s full fury when things went wrong or when little micro-moments, on and off the field, weren’t given enough attention. Like the ex-Leinster and current Ireland Scrum coach John Fogarty commented:

“When Joe came in, the team was feeling pretty good about itself, we had won [the Heineken Cup] and reached a semi-final the following year. We underperformed at the end of the previous season, despite reaching the Pro 12 finals, but we were missing johnny sexton so there were a number of excuses we could have used, and we did.

Schmidt’s obsessive attention to detail would be both appreciated and feared by members of the Ireland team of the recent past.

“Joe squashed all that nonsense. He was very direct in the way he spoke and everyone understood very, very quickly what it was all about and that you’re not going to get away with that attitude around him. Very, very soon you had a clear idea of ​​what kind of person he was and how he was going to deal with you, very direct and direct.”

It was the style of Joe Schmidt or the road, and that will mean a fierce new energy will be introduced to the New Zealand national rugby scene. The adjustment process will be transformational rather than progressive, and it is quite possible that Schmidt will find it difficult to place himself anywhere other than near the pinnacle of the pyramid.

Schmidt’s obsessive attention to detail would be both appreciated and feared by members of the Ireland team of the recent past. As a former Ulster second rank dan tuohy remember:

“I would use [openside flanker] chris henry as an example. Most of the time he was fit, but he didn’t look fit. He was as fit as anything, but he looked like a bag of shit.

“Chris would be at dinner and he wasn’t sure if he could have ketchup with his food. There was always this element of hiding things, or having dessert and Joe would always be watching you.

“One thing I will say is that he prepared his teams incredibly well. He prepared his teams to the nth degree, but I do think he stifled some of the creativity.”

Joe Schmidt took a “my way or the highway” approach during his years with Leinster and Ireland. (Photo by Getty Images)

My own experience helping prepare England for the onslaught of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland under Stuart Lancaster was certainly interesting. We won four of the five matches played between the countries between 2012 and 2015, but there was always a distinct flavor and unusual intensity associated with those matches.

It was like playing rugby in a pressure cooker, with one mistake that would probably boil the pot. There was constant aerial blitz in the shorter contestable zones, and 75 to 80 per cent of the Irish attacking game came off 9s, rather than 10 or 12. In one season we counted just five volleys in a full Six Nations, with hyper-accuracy in the ruck the preferred method of recycling the ball.

Tuohy again:

“I remember that in a meeting he [Joe Schmidt] he said ‘Don’t download, you don’t have the skills to download’. And this isn’t just me, it’s the whole team [that Schmidt was talking to].

“’You can’t download, unless it’s 100 percent, don’t bother. Just get the ball back and we’ll keep the ball. So guys were petrified to unload the ball.”

in a fable six nations game against Welsh in 2017, Ireland built 142 rucks and forced Wales to make 208 tackles, but Wales still won the match in the end by 22 points to 9.

In attack Ireland were only really dangerous during the first four or five phases, where Schmidt had devised a sophisticated web of moves designed to expose the inside defense near the ruck flank.

Take an example of a multi-purpose lineout strike package that Schmidt loved to run with Leinster and Ireland. It comes from the classic end-of-year tour match against the All Blacks:

From a throw in lineout near the middle, the ball is carried into midfield with a carry of the number 8 jamie heaslipand there is an additional late bump on aaron smith to the side of the ruck by prop Mike Ross. Schmidt’s teams made a big deal out of using ruck clearance to split the defense into two parts, and all subsequent play will be down that narrow green funnel between the near 15-metre line and midfield.

The second phase returns to the near side, with scrumhalf conormurray using a striker (hooker Rory Best) as the ‘post’ with a number of passing options around him

In this case, Best does somersaults before giving a quick pass to the prop. cyan healy outside the. The offload is only made from the ground when it is 100 percent certain it will be successful, with the ball carrier beyond the tackler. When Heaslip gets the ball a second time, he doesn’t think about deflecting the ball, he goes back into that same tight channel of attack.

The keynote is, again, angled work in the ruck, with Healy not content with neutralizing his man on the cleanup, but driving him inside and away from the intended channel of attack, while Paul O’Connell advances ahead of the ball on the other side of the break. The stage is set for another bust in the middle by Sean O’Brien, with Ireland scoring a couple of phases later on the same channel. Six phases in total, all in the creative ‘funnel’ between midfield and the 15m line.

A few months later, in the Six Nations, Ireland scored again with a variation of the same move:

It’s the same move that was used against the All Blacks, but this time with Heaslip as the ‘post’ as Murray circles around him. The chosen option is the in-pass to fullback Rob Kearney, coming from a hidden spot directly behind the ruck, with O’Connell carefully positioning himself between Kearney and the most likely tackler, Joe Launchbury. We knew he was coming, but the precision was such that we couldn’t stop him.

All Blacks fans will notice much more attention being paid to that attacking channel five meters on either side of the ruck later in 2022. That’s where Schmidt’s influence will be felt most strongly in attack. It could be said that it has already been felt there:

Big ends like Julian Savea either Caleb Clarke (here, for the Blues in their game against the Brumbies) will come straight ‘through the pipe’ in the first phase. They will track their number 9s religiously through phases, to straighten up the attack with short busts on the gut:

The Highlanders Wing Scott Gregory he’s sitting on the inside shoulder of his number 9 Folau Fakatavaand he reaps the reward in the second clip with a helping hand from his cleanup, via an O’Connell-like intervention that splits the defense in half.

There will also be more emphasis on drawing the inside defense towards the first receiver before moving the ball into the attacking channel near the ruck:

In both cases Hurricanes’ number 12 Jordie Barrett he’s a key player, and likely to be just as important to the All Blacks’ attacking success in the second half of 2022.

There is no doubt that it will be impossible for Joe Schmidt to keep a low profile as New Zealand manager. Everything about his history in Ireland speaks against it and suggests that he will become a significant if not controlling influence in the All Blacks hierarchy. There will probably be more kicking volume, more ball control in the ruck and better detail on cleanup; less autoplay across the width and a lot more dirty work in between.

It may take some time for Kiwi fans to get used to the ‘new way’.

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