Joe Schmidt wants to take Ireland to their first ever World Cup semi-final a fitting finale to his remarkable six year tenure
Dublin (AFP) - Joe Schmidt is too canny to set targets publicly but he admits he dreams of bowing out as Ireland head coach by taking them to their first ever Rugby World Cup semi-final.
The 53-year-old New Zealander – who will take his team to the sport’s quadrennial showpiece in Japan as the world number one ranked team – ends a remarkable six-year tenure when the tournament ends.
During that time he has guided the Irish to victories over all the southern Hemisphere nations – the pinnacle two historic wins over world champions New Zealand – and three Six Nations titles including only the third Grand Slam in their history last year.
Hence his desire to be the first coach to succeed in taking Ireland beyond the World Cup quarter-finals – arguably his greatest disappointment is the manner in which Argentina blitzed the Irish in the 2015 last eight clash.
“Yes we would love to make that semi-final and I don’t set goals,” he said following Saturday’s 19-10 victory over Wales to confirm their place at the top of the rankings.
“So it is not even a goal, it is a dream I have that I would love to see come to fruition.
Schmidt, who has turned the Irish around in their last three warm-up Tests with back to back wins over the Welsh after a humiliating 57-15 thrashing by England, says it is important for the country to make the last four.
“We need a semi-final in this big competition coming up,” he said.
“If you try to chase everything, I don’t know if you’ve done too much farming but if you try to chase the whole herd all you end up is chasing.
“If you corral things and decide where your priorities are I think you give yourself a better chance.
“But you need that luck, you need a few things to go your way.”
- ‘Fight hard for the jersey’ -
Publically reserved Schmidt, who has become an Irish citizen during his spell in Ireland which also included three years as Leinster head coach yielding two European Cups, concedes privately it is an entirely different matter.
“Yeah, nervous,” he said.
“I finish in two months’ time and it is so important to me personally and I can’t let that be part of the equation.
Joe Schmidt says there will be no repeat at the World Cup of the limp Irish performance in the 57-15 thrashing by England
Schmidt, who will take time out of the game when he returns to New Zealand and focus on family matters, recognises that for the semi-final dream to be fulfilled the first pool match with Scotland on September 22 could be pivotal.
The winners of that pool – which also includes potentially tricky hosts Japan – will in all probability play either New Zealand or South Africa in the quarter-finals.
“If we can beat Scotland, there is so much riding on that game and they know the same thing, and they are such a good side,” said Schmidt.
“I know Gregor Townsend (Scotland head coach) well and I have got massive respect for him.
“I think he is a smart coach and on the back of that they are going to be a huge challenge.”
Schmidt, though, is adamant the Ireland side who went down so limply to England at Twickenham a fortnight ago was an aberration.
“That’s the only time I can remember in six-and-a-half years that we haven’t really fought hard for the jersey.
“We’ve lost games and we haven’t lost that many, to be honest, because they do fight hard for the jersey.
“It will be tough at the World Cup and Scotland will be tough, but we will be tough.”