Dublin (AFP) – Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has delivered silverware aplenty but his biggest legacy has been to successfully change the face of Irish rugby, captain Rory Best said on Friday.
Schmidt’s contract runs till next year’s World Cup but he is due to announce his future plans after the November Tests — he has been mentioned as a prospective future head coach of New Zealand.
Schmidt guided Ireland to two Six Nations titles before going one better with the Grand Slam this year — only the third in their history in either the Five or Six Nations championship — after winning two European Cups and a Pro14 trophy with Leinster.
Best said the 53-year-old New Zealander’s record at both Leinster and with Ireland is testament to his ability, and impact on Irish rugby.
“What Joe has done for Irish rugby, not just for the national team but also Leinster, is evident and plain to see,” said Best at his press conference on the eve of the Test match with Argentina.
“Silverware speaks for itself, no matter what Joe does he has changed Irish rugby how it is perceived, in the performance and the preparation.
“The legacy, obviously physically, is the trophies but it is also what Leinster have become and what Ireland are pushing towards and have achieved.”
Best, who is returning to the Test arena after missing the 2-1 Test series win over Australia in the summer because of a hamstring injury, said Schmidt’s legacy would also be seen in the players who played under him turning to coaching in the years to come.
“The coaches coming through, see it in the likes of Paulie (O’Connell) at Stade Francais,” said Best.
“You will see in years to come players involved with him will start to retire and take up that side of the game and that too will be a lasting legacy.”
– ‘The best coach’ –
Best, who will earn his 112th cap on Saturday, was unequivocal about where Schmidt stood in terms of who he had been coached by.
“Obviously from an Irish rugby fan point of view you want the best coaches to stay, he is the best coach I’ve worked with and one of the best in the world,” said the 36-year-old.
“Obviously you want him in charge of the national team but he will do what is best for him.”
Best said Schmidt’s departure, if he decides to leave, will not leave a gaping hole in terms of a potential successor.
“Looking at our coaching staff, there is that option. These guys Simon (Easterby) and Faz (Andy Farrell) they took a lot of the preparation last week (ahead of the 54-7 rout of Italy) and you saw what happened,” said Best.
“Simon has been head coach at Scarlets and Faz at Saracens and then part of the England set-up.
“There are options and there are plenty of good young coaches.
“The next challenge is to bring Irish coaches through and not have over-reliance on coaches from abroad.”
Schmidt and Best have formed a strong relationship and the latter — despite question marks over his age and his line out throwing — looks set to lead the Irish into the World Cup having been handed the captaincy again for the November series.
“We didn’t really have much of a conversation, I learned about it really when he named the squad,” he said.
“We always said if a conversation was needed to the contrary we’d have it.
“Not being in Australia, we didn’t get that opportunity.
“We chat fairly regularly and it has never been mentioned, it has all been about planning for this season.”