herald

Sunday 25 September 2016

Schmidt and the Blues are at loggerheads

Worry about Welfare between Joe and Matt

JOE SCHMIDT
JOE SCHMIDT
IAN MADIGAN

WHO would have thought it? Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is at loggerheads with his former province Leinster.

The IRFU's Performance Director David Nucifora and Schmidt came together to allay concerns over the Player Welfare Programme yesterday.

The meeting seemed to be triggered by Leinster coach Matt O'Connor's claim to having "access" to his players for 30 per cent of this season.

"There's been this magical 30 per cent number tossed around out there and I can tell you it is grossly inaccurate," said Nucifora.

"That 30 per cent number takes into account player injuries, non-selection, as well as the games affected by the player management system."

There does seem to be a genuine crossing of wires given how O'Connor never stated how exactly he came to the calculation of 30 per cent.

Obviously, it was made from the same facts Nucifora came out with which makes it a disagreement ove a misinterpretation of the facts rather than which side is telling the truth, or not.

This is the transcription of how the exchange went between O'Connor and the media out in UCD on Monday.

QUESTION: "Matt, we saw last Sunday what you achieved when you have all of your guys at your disposal.

"Looking at the League you have won nine games out of 19. Is there a fight, a battle to be had around the boardroom table to say you want your guys available a bit more just so you can achieve what you can achieve?

ANSWER: "I've been very honest in how I've approached those conversations. We've had access to our best blokes for 30 per cent of the season. Unfortunately, the League table reflects that.

"But, with our best blokes we are as good as anyone in Europe. I think we showed that on Sunday."

The most salient factor is the IRFU see the retention of the Player Welfare Programme as a "unique selling point" in keeping elite players, like Seán O'Brien, in Ireland or bringing them home.

"One of the reasons Jonny Sexton is coming back to Ireland, is so he doesn't have to play 12 games in 11 weeks," said Schmidt.

Training itself is attritional and one of the limitations that we're trying to overcome with the player management programme is that it's very much game measured, not training volume measured.

"We're trying to include training volume and even player feedback during the week - how do they feel in their feedback about how their body's travelling.

"Having spent time with Leinster, they do do that really well.

"They look after their players, it's an attraction; one of the reasons Seán O'Brien didn't go to Toulon, it's one of the ways we keep hold of our players."

Schmidt sees the Player Welfare system as one that should be coveted, not undermined, whether intentionally or not.

"I have been on both sides of it and I know that there are always frustrations if you don't feel that you have a free hand," said Schmidt.

"The one thing I would say about the evolution of the system is that it's a lot freer than it used to be. In my first year, Brian O'Driscoll couldn't play in the first game. He was allowed 40 minutes in the second, 60 in the third and then the full game.

"That was not just him. That was a number of different national players and trying to juggle minutes within a game.

"There's nothing like that now."

The briefing was book-ended by the long-term welfare of coach Schmidt and captain Paul O'Connell, the two subjects in the forefront of Irish rugby matters.

First, Nucifora established the fact that the IRFU "will commence over the next short period of time" to begin discussions with Schmidt.

On O'Connell's contract, Schmidt was quick to step in and reveal something of the respect he has for his captain.

"Paul O'Connell will decide that. He makes his own decisions," he said.

"I have an incredible respect for the man. I think he has done a phenomenal job in leading Ireland and that is something that will continue through the World Cup.

"I guess he will make decisions in the lead-up to that and those decisions, of course, we will try to influence him."

 

One of the reasons Sexton is coming back, is so he doesn't have to play

12 games

in 11 weeks.

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