Rugby: Coach thrives on job pressure

By Shane Hurndell

New Ireland rugby coach Joe Schmidt was handed a cracker of a compliment during a visit to Napier Boys' High School yesterday.

As Schmidt posed for a photo with Napier Boys' High School 1st XV players Sam McNicol and Ollie Penno, school principal and Schmidt's boss when he taught at the school in 1998, '99 and 2000, Ross Brown, remarked Schmidt, 47, could easily have been mistaken as a teammate of the pair.

This is a tribute to the shape Schmidt, a former Manawatu winger, keeps himself in while coping with the pressures of being a professional coach for the past decade.

"It's not so much the exercise I do. It's more the pressure of the job, my metabolism and heart rate. At 80kg I'm within 5 to 10kg of what I weighed when I was a skinny young winger for Manawatu," Schmidt explained after a coaching session with the NBHS 1st XV squad.

"Everyone knows the pressure of being a professional coach ... you're always only a couple of losses away from looking for your next job."

Not that Schmidt, a father of four, has found himself in that position. He has had the midas touch in New Zealand and overseas. After coaching the New Zealand Secondary Schools team he left teaching on a fulltime basis to coach Bay of Plenty during the 2003 and '04 seasons and won a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Auckland in his second season.

He joined the Blues Super Rugby side as an assistant coach from 2004-2007 and in his final year the Blues were beaten semifinalists. Schmidt then moved to Europe and joined Clermont as the backs coach. After two consecutive second placings in the Top 14, Clermont won the competition in 2010.

In 2010 he was appointed head coach of Leinster where he brought unprecedented success to the province by reaching six finals and winning four trophies during three years at the helm. This success saw him secure the Ireland head coach role in April. His three-year deal runs until the end of the 2015-16 season.

"It's exciting but daunting. There's a fair bit of expectation," Schmidt said.

He pointed out it isn't his ambition to follow the path of another former New Zealand teacher, Warren Gatland, and become the Lions coach.

"It doesn't pay to look too far ahead. I like to take things one game at a time. I'm waiting for that midas touch to run out."

"I've had a little bit of success. A lot of that has been to do with the quality of players and quality of the staff I've been around. Professional coaching isn't a one-man job," Schmidt explained.

Schmidt had the likes of former Maori All Blacks Warren Smith, Matt Berquist, and Glen Horton in his NBHS 1st XVs. He still keeps in regular contact with several of his former NBHS players and got Berquist to have a stint with Leinster.

"This year's Napier team isn't big. But they are a good bunch of boys who are keen to learn," Schmidt said.

Although he has never applied for the Magpies coaching job, Schmidt hasn't ruled out the possibility of returning to the Bay in future.

"We've half-planned returns to New Zealand three or four times but have been persuaded to stay in Europe. Apart from the weather I can't complain about life over there ... I've had a lot of fun."

Despite having worked and lived in Manawatu, Hawke's Bay, Bay of Plenty and Auckland, Schmidt regards Palmerston North and Hawke's Bay as more of his "homes" because he has family members in both.

"Obviously the Bay is the better of those two places," he said, again hinting it may only be a matter of time before he returns to the Bay.

However his three-year contract with Ireland is his immediate priority. He know his heart rate is about to receive it's toughest test yet.

And the chances are he is unlikely to receive the same compliment he got yesterday when he next visits Napier Boys' High School.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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