herald

Monday 21 August 2017

Schmidt in awe of irish captain

'Driven, intelligent' leader inspires team and makes life easier for coach

There is the image of the man. There is the talk about the man.

Then, there is getting to know and work closely with the man.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has found Paul O'Connell to be all the things he had heard and he had seen in his three years as Leinster coach trying to outmanoeuvre Munster's talisman.

"The person I have come to know is exactly the person I thought he was from afar," said Schmidt.

"He has got incredible self-drive, is an incredibly intelligent man about the game, about particular aspects of the game.

"He is incredibly driven to improve his own performance and, thereby, leads others in doing that.

"That is what I have learnt even more," he stated.

"I suppose that has been confirmed to me in the period of time that we have spent working together over the last 18 months.

"When I first started looking a little more broadly, when I knew I was going to take the position and then since been in situ."

RECKLESS

There was a time when Leinster coach Schmidt had to take a stand against O'Connell's reckless use of the boot to the head of his player Dave Kearney.

Schmidt viewed that issue as a matter of his player's welfare.

It never boiled over into direct personal confrontation. O'Connell showed contrition to a fellow player.

However, it led many observers to suggest their relationship would be a strained one when the sophisticate and the warrior finally came together at Camp Ireland.

It has been anything but, as two demon winners have realised they are more alike than dissimilar in their constant pursuit of excellence, a word O'Connell loves to lean on.

The hovering frame of the former red-head hoovers up information like your latest Dyson.

O'Connell will not stand for anything less than the best you can give. It is just the way the Limerick man is made.

There must be times when the coaches are the players' lesser concern to letting down international rugby's latest centurion.

There can be little doubt O'Connell is a coach-in-waiting whenever and wherever that will begin.

"I think there is part of him that would love to play forever," said Schmidt.

"I haven't spoken to him about anything other than what we might do at kick-off.

"It doesn't get too much further down the line than that and Paul's pretty happy with that.

"Right now, he's playing and he's enjoying that and he's incredibly motivated to play as well as he can.

"I think other players are really motivated to support him whether it's his 100th cap or not," added Schmidt.

The push for perfection is contagious, not just to the newbies like Robbie Henshaw, Marty Moore and Jack McGrath.

"It makes all the coaches' lives easier," imparted Schmidt.

Doubtless, the New Zealander would have discussed the employment of Simon Easterby as Ireland's forwards coach on the exit of John Plumtree.

He needed to look no further than his captain for a reference on the matter..

"He and Simon Easterby have a fantastic working relationship. They played and deciphered lineouts and deciphered aspects of the game when they were playing together.

"Now to be doing it as a coach/player, that is a really positive aspect of it for us."

There is a world of difference between being a leader and a control freak. This is where the ability of O'Connell to trust becomes a feature of his character.

"I think one of the best things about Paul is that he doesn't try to carry the whole weight of leadership on his own two shoulders.

"Paul doesn't assume every leadership responsibility," shared Schmidt.

"He delegates and he encourages and so that is one of the fantastic things for the coaches as well.

ROLE

"It means Jamie (Heaslip) has a definite role. He has some particular things that he leads on, that Johnny Sexton does, that Rob Kearney does, Peter O'Mahony.

"We have got a number of provincial leaders, Rory Best, who step up and take different roles of leadership.

"He is driven to make sure his performance is as good as he can make it.

"He delegates some of that leadership but certainly grabs some of it to take the team forward."

IRELAND

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