Ireland enter the November internationals with the deepest squad in the team’s history and off the back of a stellar 2018 thus far – but there is still some uncertainty about the future of the national team with less than one year to go until the 2019 World Cup.
Since Joe Schmidt replaced Declan Kidney as Ireland head coach in the summer of 2013, the team has ticked almost every box: three Six Nations titles, plus one Grand Slam, a first ever win against the All Blacks, a test series win in Australia and a first ever win on South African soil.
Add to that the two Heineken Cups, PRO 12 title and European Challenge Cup Schmidt won with Leinster, and it’s obvious that the Kiwi has had an massive impact on the fortunes of Irish rugby.
Schmidt’s contract is set to end after the 2019 World Cup, where Ireland will be hoping to finally reach a semi-final for the first time – at the very least. After that, we still don’t know who might be coaching the team, with Schmidt set to make his intentions known after the four-match November series.
Another four-year cycle up to the 2023 World Cup would bring him to ten seasons in charge of the national team, plus another three at Leinster, for 13 in total in Ireland. Schmidt has previously said that after a long time away from New Zealand, a return home could be on the cards.
With Steve Hansen’s contract as All Blacks head coach also up after the 2019 World Cup, Schmidt could well be in the frame for one of rugby’s biggest jobs.
There has also been speculation of a return to club rugby, either with a Super Rugby franchise in New Zealand or possibly in the Top 14, where he was previously the assistant coach to Vern Cotter at Clermont Auvergne.
Schmidt’s announcement will be crucial to the future of Irish rugby, with the IRFU either locking down one of the most sought-after coaches for another four years or facing up to the tough task of finding a replacement.
Speaking on The Left Wing, Independent.ie’s rugby podcast, Luke Fitzgeralad – who played under Schmidt for both Leinster and Ireland – thinks that the World Cup in Japan could be the natural conclusion to a hugely successful period in Irish rugby.
“Is it a natural culmination of a job well done? I think he can look back regardless and say that he has done a super job,” Fitzgerald said.
“Personally, I might say is it a natural time to look for something different. It is difficult to say. I would still be delighted if he stayed.
Irish Independent rugby correspondent Ruaidhri O’Connor said that he thinks Schmidt might decide to step away after guiding Ireland past the World Cup quarter-finals next year.
“Every time you talk to someone about it, you get a different sense [of what Schmidt might do],” O’Connor said.
“David Nucifora [IRFU Performance Director] was quietly confident that he might stay on. My gut feeling throughout is that he will probably go. He has acheived so much in Irish rugby. What is there left to achieve at the end of a World Cup where hopefully he will have broken that glass ceiling of the quarter-final? And if he hasn’t, does he really want through another four years to build again?”
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