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Monday 23 April 2018

Shrewd Schmidt sorts out captaincy

Ireland coach picks O'Connell with Heaslip lined up to fill in

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

LIGHTS. Camera. Action.

Well, we're almost there. The start of the Joe Schmidt era. The beginning of the end for Brian O'Driscoll, who is ready and raring to go.

Schmidt has anointed Paul O'Connell (inset) as his captain and Jamie Heaslip as his vice-captain in what is an astute decision made to see Ireland through to the 2015 World Cup with the succession plan to see Heaslip move into the armband thereafter.

"It was a tough decision," said Schmidt.

"We have a very good group who are really steering the ship, so to speak. To have two guys at the helm just allows us to cover our bases.

Injuries

"Obviously with Paul (O'Connell), he's had an intermittent two years now, where he has had a number of injuries.

"Whereas Jamie (Heaslip) is incredibly durable, he is going to line up for every training (session) and game. It allows us to cover both bases".

So why O'Connell? "Paul is incredibly passionate. He's iconic as a player but also as a person in rugby in Ireland.

"He's committed to continuing beyond this season and that was also part of the equation for us as well. To make sure that there was some sort of connection between this season and next.

"And he's a leader of men."

Leadership comes in different forms. Schmidt also revealed that O'Driscoll took himself out of the running for the lead role.

"To be honest, Brian ruled himself out. He thinks a lot more widely than just about himself," said Schmidt.

"I know that Brian would love to be captain because he loves to take on any challenge. But he also, I think, believes it's important there's some sort of continuity going forward."

The decision on how long O'Driscoll can last the pace of the international game will be what Schmidt calls "a ball in play decision".

"In an ideal world, 60 minutes would be a good re-introduction but to be honest, he is such a fighter, if we need to go to the trenches he's a great lieutenant and he's a great foot soldier, so he's a great combination for us," he surmised.

Schmidt was made to recall the familiarity of his former life as a teacher and vice-principal, even acting principal of a large secondary school in New Zealand.

There was something akin to cramming for an exam about Ireland's condensed time frame of two weeks for the three-test series.

"Yea, it has to be honest. It is a bit like that, especially as an exam, certainly when I went to school, you had a number of options in the exam and so you studied a couple really well and left the others out.

"I'm not sure we're complete yet, but we're going to try to do some things really well and hopefully that's sufficient to get us over the line because it is a work in progress.

"And it's one of the reasons that explain team selection as well, when you are cramming and you've only got so much time and there's a number of players who've done all the swat that they need. Those guys were obviously advantaged.

"I didn't think I was ever going to be in a job coaching professional rugby. I kind of fell into it at the start. But, since then, just like a player you challenge yourself to take expectations and bring them to fruition.

"That's a challenge and I'd love to see it happen immediately but I'm also a realist and it make take a little while".

Schmidt might be a realist. He is also a salesman. The IRFU were convinced by his work at Leinster. Now, he has to work the same magic on the general public.

"I'd like to think we can develop a product that people really enjoy attaching to and if you get that emotional attachment I think that the team, they get driven forward as a result and I think the spectator, they enjoy the experience that much more".

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