For over an hour Joe Schmidt has tried his best to sound upbeat, positive. Excited about the future. About the chance to spend more time with his family. Grateful for the "incredible" support he has received from the Irish public.

Every so often, though, a pained expression flashes across his face. "Yeah, I'm not sure I'll ever go back to coaching," he says. "I just don't know. I want to give myself a bit of distance. I'm emotionally attached. I do take it home with me. I do feel a sense of responsibility to the people who support us, the people who came out to Japan, the people whose hopes we maybe inspired. To let them down was… really tough."

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It has been five weeks since Ireland's World Cup dream came to an abrupt end at the Ajinomoto Stadium on the outskirts of Tokyo. A quarter-final match-up with New Zealand, the world champions, was never going to be easy. But Ireland never got going. The final scoreline of 46-14 in no way exaggerated the All Blacks' superiority. It was a bitter pill to swallow and Schmidt has kept a low profile since. He declined to hold a press conference the day after the match. And while he answered a few questions at Dublin airport a few days later, he was clearly still very raw and did not provide much perspective.


The publication this week of Schmidt's new book, Ordinary Joe (Penguin Random House), means he can no longer avoid the questions. Sitting in a small meeting room at the Ballsbridge Hotel in Dublin, a stone's throw from the Aviva Stadium which he helped turn into a fortress for Ireland for most of the past six years, Schmidt is ready for what is coming.

Joe Schmidt. Photo /
Joe Schmidt. Photo /

While he was licking his wounds in private, a narrative emerged explaining Ireland's dramatic loss of form this year; they were too conservative, they relied too much on structure. They failed to evolve after reaching the summit of world rugby last year with their sensational victory over the All Blacks in Dublin. Worse than that, they regressed.

The fact that it was Schmidt's former proteges, Brian O'Driscoll and Isa Nacewa, who were helping to drive that narrative made it all the more damning. Nacewa goes all the way back to Schmidt's time at the Blues in New Zealand. He helped facilitate Schmidt's move from Clermont to Leinster in 2010. His suggestion on a Sky Sports podcast that Ireland had taken on some of Leinster's more free-flowing "unstructured play" during their annus mirabilis in 2018, only to revert to "a more conservative approach" when it came to the crunch felt like Brutus knifing Caesar.

Schmidt looks downcast when the Nacewa issue is raised. But defiant. He says he has not read the reports, or listened to the podcast. He does not believe Nacewa meant to say what he did. "If you saw the text that Isa sent me straight after the quarter-final, and the text that he sent me immediately after he saw the reports that came out of the podcast. He just told me, 'Look, the way I phrased things wasn't the way I intended them'. That's the danger of doing things like this. Even before I left home today, my wife Kelly knew I was nervous because I said, 'Look I'm going to be open'… I'm not normally open."

It is an interesting admission. For all Schmidt's success over the past decade or so, for all that he has become one of the most high-profile names in world rugby, the man himself has remained largely inscrutable. Ordinary Joe does not go a whole lot further in terms of uncovering the real Joe Schmidt. Part-autobiography, part-coaching manual, part diary, Schmidt wrote it himself over the past three years. And while there are some interesting sections, it skips over some of the biggest moments. There is virtually no mention of the 2015 World Cup exit, for instance, while the last section, relating to the most recent World Cup campaign, are written in diary form. The entries feel rushed, lacking depth and analysis.

"I am guarded about my personal life," he admits. "Ever since my time with the Blues. That was tough going. When your 10-year-old son comes home from school and he's in tears because people are saying his dad is no good… I mean, he was always going to find out one day but that was a bit early!"

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt before their 14-46 loss to the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup quarter final match at Tokyo Stadium, Japan. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt before their 14-46 loss to the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup quarter final match at Tokyo Stadium, Japan. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

The most interesting bits in Ordinary Joe are those which offer an insight into what makes Schmidt the coach he is; a workaholic, a man who says he did not have a day off in 6½ years, who barely slept while in Japan.

The burning sense of injustice instilled in him as a young boy, for instance, when he was "strapped" (hit with a ruler) at school in Woodville Primary School for talking in class, then sent to his room by his mother with the promise of "another two from your father". Sundays spent in the editing suite at Palmerston North Boys' High School cutting footage of his team's match from the previous day. Suspending a student for possession of marijuana when newly appointed deputy principal at Tauranga Boys' College.


But Schmidt stops short of revealing too much of himself. There are briefly moving passages when he deals with his son Luke's diagnosis with epilepsy as a four-year-old, or his mother's death earlier this year. But he quickly moves on. As he does from Ireland's two World Cup quarter-final exits, about which there is little analysis.

Schmidt says he has "no interest in settling scores". One minor dig at fellow coach Matt Williams, who has been one of his most outspoken critics, aside, he does not use his book to dig anyone out. "Life as a coach is isolating enough without us criticising each other".

But he is keen to defend his record. The accusations that his modus operandi was too overbearing, for instance. That the infamous Monday review sessions with his players, which at one stage earned him the nickname "Schmidtler", were too much. Or that his team became too structured. "Do you think it looked structured in the Japan game?" he asks of Ireland's shock pool defeat which ensured they went through to face New Zealand rather than South Africa. "My biggest frustration is that people put a narrative to something that isn't necessarily the reality."

Schmidt says with hindsight his biggest failure was focusing too much on the World Cup and losing sight of the day to day. Not targeting this year's Six Nations, for instance. But he is adamant there was nothing wrong with Ireland's game plan per se.

"You're learning all the time," he sighs. "And that's one frustration I'll have with not coaching any more. There are things in that game, things in the last year…."

So he will not coach any more then? "I don't plan to do it seriously. But it's not like coaching in football where you can potentially accumulate enough to retire permanently. I'll have to go back to work at some stage. I'm just not sure what that will look like."

One thing is for sure: there will be no shortage of clubs or countries looking to tempt Schmidt back. He is still only 54. And he remains undoubtedly the greatest coach in Irish rugby history. Two disappointing World Cup campaigns cannot undo all the good work he did with Ireland or the provinces. It is no stretch to imagine him resurfacing next summer, in Europe or New Zealand.

"They've offered me jobs," Schmidt admits. "But they've also been incredibly respectful of the family circumstance that we have.

"For me it's a bit of a moot point. Obviously the conversations I've had with New Zealand, any conversations I've had elsewhere, even the fact that there were a couple of job offers on my phone immediately after the [World Cup] exit, that evening. As broken as you are, people don't see that your value has completely gone because you lost a game.

"I'm really not sure what the future holds. We were always going to return to New Zealand but now that my mother has passed away…It will depend a bit on Luke. He is 16 now. He is settled. His school have been phenomenal, training people up so that they know how to look after someone who is having a seizure.

"He has needed someone on call every day of his life. And Kelly has had to bear the brunt of that. I can take that responsibility now."