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Sunday 22 October 2017

Easterby: Beating Boks my target

Forwards coach Easterby 'proud' to get call from Schmidt

Simon Easterby
Simon Easterby

Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby's ranks the Springboks as "arguably" better than the All Blacks.

"We have got South Africa coming up, arguably the No 1 side in the world," he said.

"Yes, New Zealand are (No 1) in the rankings, but they have just beaten New Zealand and they are a pretty formidable outfit.

"We can't look past that.

"If we get off to a positive start against South Africa then we start to build momentum again and that for me is the focus."

The momentum of three victories will be hard to come by as Ireland contemplates the Springboks on Saturday week at the Aviva Stadium.

EMBRACE

The standing of Ireland coach Joe Schmidt in the northern hemisphere is such that any career coach worth his weight in salt would welcome his embrace.

The call to Easterby came when Schmidt was in Argentina in the middle of the two test matches there.

"It was a call that I didn't expect because I wasn't actually aware that John (Plumtree) had decided to leave his position," he said.

"The fact that he considered me was something I felt that I was very proud that I got the call.

"It didn't take long for me to feel like it was an opportunity that I wanted to take up."

There is a pragmatic air about Easterby that moves one to believe this is an opportunity partly about learning, developing further coaching knowledge under the guidance of Schmidt.

"Yeah, Joe is someone who I would have had a good deal of time for as an opposing coach.

"We always got on well. We had similar ideas.

"He progressed to winning a couple of Heineken Cups at the time with Leinster after we beat them at Parc Y Scarlets in one of his first games," he said, with a wide smile.

"But you could see even then, he had something about him that was going to drive whatever environment he was in.

"You speak to the guys at Clermont and they had huge admiration for the work he did under Vern Cotter. The same with the guys at Leinster.

"It goes without saying that you want to work with the best. And Joe is certainly one of those."

This is where the difference between being a coach and a player swings into view.

"Coaching posts come up out of the blue," he said.

"Someone leaves a job, someone gets sacked, whatever it is. It's different to playing.

"When you're a player you continue through each contract, then you get another one, or go to another club, or retire!

"Coaching is a little more fluid. You have to react to opportunities. I don't think I'm different to any other coach. But, some opportunities are harder to not consider than others."

He also believes that he has done his apprenticeship, so to speak, in club rugby. He has less experience than some coaches; more than others.

"You look at Rob Howley. He's hardly ever coached (a club team). Robin McBryde has hardly ever coached a club team. He's gone straight into international coaching from being a player.

"The English set-up is quite similar with Andy Farrell who did a bit of time with Saracens.

"I don't know it's what works out for the individual. I have done six years as a club coach whether it be head or assistant.

POSTIVELY

"If I didn't feel that I could come in here and respond positively, bring value to the environment or I thought it wasn't the right time, I wouldn't have taken the job.

"That would have been stupid for me. I think it is the right time and opportunities are few and far between so you have to take some opportunities when they come your way."

Then, there is also the affinity he has for Ireland as one of the first names on Eddie O'Sullivan's team-sheet in an international career spanning nine years and 65 caps.

"That pull was big in terms of coaching Ireland," he said. "I think if it had been another club or another international team it wouldn't have had the same value to me."

Easterby was the consummate professional as a player. As a coach too.

He had to take a cold, calculated view of what it meant to join a country that was already the Six Nations champions.

On the face of it, there doesn't seem to be too much wriggle room, especially when Ireland's forward pack will be without characters like Seán O'Brien, Cian Healy, Donnacha Ryan, Iain Henderson and Marty Moore.

Even back in June, he couldn't let his heart rule his head if he didn't see where he could make a difference.

"It's probably a balance of the two. Clearly coaching at international is a big step up. But, obviously, I have a natural affinity to this," he said, glancing down at his official Ireland t-shirt.

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