COMMENT

Joe Schmidt's mic drop moment appears typical of such a savvy operator. He can't be discounted from the All Blacks coaching picture just yet.

Hours after Ireland swept the World Rugby awards, claiming coach, team and player of the year, Schmidt caught everyone off guard by announcing he will "finish coaching" after the World Cup.

Most expected, after eight years in Ireland, 11 coaching in Europe, Schmidt to confirm he would return to New Zealand following next year's tournament in Japan.

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The finish coaching part no one saw coming.

Schmidt's scripted decision came via press release, carefully allowing no room for further questioning or clarification. Taken as read, he plans to step away and spend more time with wife, Kellie, and their four children.

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At this point it is important to acknowledge Schmidt's son, Luke, has battled a brain tumour since age four and suffers from epilepsy. His intention to "prioritise family commitments" cannot, therefore, be dismissed.

The value he placed in staying close to world-class London-based neurological care is one major reason Schmidt turned down multiple approaches from New Zealand Rugby to return home. The last occasion is thought to be to replace Wayne Smith last year, before re-signing with Ireland.

Schmidt is also a self-confessed workaholic, and the job of any international head coach is an all-consuming, pressure-filled bubble.

Yet what Schmidt's announcement did not say is he remains in prime position to sit back and watch how the cards fall.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen chat before the test clash in Dublin. Photo / Getty
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen chat before the test clash in Dublin. Photo / Getty

In one brief statement, he attempted to remove all speculation about the All Blacks.

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With Ireland's English defence coach Andy Farrell locked in as successor through to the 2023 World Cup, the IRFU statement also tried to dispel team distractions ahead of the World Cup.

But should Steve Hansen announce next month he, too, will step down after the World Cup - no given, of course - NZR executives will certainly approach Schmidt about contesting the role. To not do so would be negligent.

Of course, should this play out, there will be strong competition. Hansen's trusted assistant Ian Foster represents the argument for continuity, while Jamie Joseph, Scott Robertson, Vern Cotter, Warren Gatland and Dave Rennie could all feasibly contest.

As an immensely proud New Zealander, it is unlikely Schmidt would ever shun the top job.

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If he did not want to settle for anything less and for whatever reason missed out, Schmidt could then opt for a break, perhaps positioning himself to lead the British and Irish Lions on their tour of South Africa in 2021.

The window between the World Cup and Lions would offer enough space to refresh. And the Lions role, now comprising five-weeks and six matches, does not require the same commitment or time away from family as other tier one posts.

Success brings a myriad of options, and strong bargaining power.

Walking away from coaching forever after the World Cup appears very unlikely.

Schmidt has improved Ireland's professional-era win rate by 20 per cent to 74 since taking charge in 2013, lifting them from eighth to second in the world rankings.

The former secondary school headmaster, described in some quarters as the 'Mr Miyagi' of rugby, will leave a legacy like no other in the Emerald Isle.

Joe Schmidt talks to the All Blacks coaching staff. Photo /Getty
Joe Schmidt talks to the All Blacks coaching staff. Photo /Getty

His record includes a grand slam, the third in Ireland's history, three Six Nations crowns, 12 home wins in a row, repeat European Champions Cup titles with Leinster and two victories over All Blacks – the first ever and first at home two weeks ago in Dublin.

The 53-year-old's one, major elusive prize is the World Cup, having bombed in the last quarterfinals, leaving him much to prove in this regard next year.

Before we continue too far down the hypothetical path of the next All Blacks coach and whip ourselves into a weekly frenzy, it must be said that any appointment will not happen overnight – not before the World Cup.

Keen to apply the brakes prior to departing Rome after the All Blacks' final test of the year, NZR chief executive Steve Tew reiterated the governing body's plans.

Tew also stressed the discussion needed to shift from not just who is the best candidate, to who can form the best management team.

This was, after all, the defining factor which led to Graham Henry's reappointment alongside Hansen and Smith over Robbie Deans after the 2007 World Cup blowout.

"First of all you've got to respect Steve's right to make his own decision and in his time which we're clearly going to do," Tew said.

"If we're looking for a coach then we want to give ourselves the best chance to find the right group of coaches because it is not just one person which I'm sure Steve will be very quick to explain.

"And then we want to make sure we go to a World Cup without any distractions or interruptions so that's why we've said some time ago we'll review the Rugby World Cup campaign, we'll have a process, if we're looking for a coach, and we'll go through that post World Cup."

In the stack of cards, Schmidt's statement has only moved him from ace to joker.