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Working With The Provinces Is Key – Schmidt

Working With The Provinces Is Key – Schmidt

Speaking to RTE’s Michael Corcoran for a ‘Sunday Sport’ feature interview, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt talked about working with the provinces and prioritising players based in Ireland.

Joe Schmidt offered an insight into the process of introducing players into the international set-up and the challenges faced in trying to broaden the player pool and the pivotal role the provinces are playing in that process.


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“One of the things that we have done is we have usually brought guys in a few times before they have actually gotten into match squads and there are a few guys who are in that category at the moment and some guys who have gotten very very close – the likes of Rory Scannell got very close to a matchday squad recently during the Six Nations and the GUINNESS Series – but at the same time I think one of the really important places for us to see the players play is in the provinces,” he explained.

“I think they are all going really well at the moment. It was fantastic during the Six Nations period that there was only one match lost out of I think 17 or 18 matches, because there was a few catch-up matches. To have that happen while we are also working away in the Six Nations, we’re sharing the resource.

“I think that really, for us, was a consolidation of a fair bit of work that has gone on over the last 12 months to try to make sure that we have the best cross-pollination of ideas and the best sharing of resources.

“You try to keep it as joined up as possible. You’re sharing your key resource. Our biggest asset is our player base. There is always going to be a bit of contention about who should be used where or whenever. But I think the provincial coaches would tell you that they have best autonomy we can possibly allow..

“If you are not managing people smart, you start to probably compromise yourself in some of those really big games that you are aiming for and as well as that, to a degree, you can compromise your relationship with your players. You’re trying to look after them and that’s one of the things that keeps them in this country.

“That they are looked after and we have to make sure that continues because our player base, while we are trying to grow it all the time, is not incredibly broad – not like the English or the French where they can draw upon 12 professional teams or 30 professional teams in France. It is about the best management of that and I think the provincial coaches are doing a super job of it and staying incredibly competitive at the same time.”

Commenting on the provinces’ recent performances in both the GUINNESS PRO12 and Champions Cup, the Ireland head coach admitted: “It was fantastic to watch the two quarter-finals with Leinster and Munster qualifying into the European semi-finals. We’ve got three of the top five in the PRO12 at the moment and at the same time Connacht are in the hunt and hopefully they will still qualify for the Champions Cup next year which would be fantastic. 

“For us, having the best quality of performance within the provinces, getting some really good coaching from the provincial coaches, which we know is happening at the moment, that’s the foundation that we need because in the end we get them in a match week pretty much. 

“They come in on Sunday evening, they’ve got to play the following Saturday, you’re actually relatively limited in what you can do with individual development. All you can do really is get them organised. You know they are already passionate because they are playing for their country. That’s one of the easy things about being a national coach – there is no shortage of motivation from the group you have.”

Schmidt was also asked about prioritising players playing in Ireland when it comes to national selection over those who are based overseas.


“If we don’t manage the players well and we start picking players from outside of Ireland then other players are likely to go because they will see that they can still get selected by the national team. We never say never because there’s some really good Irish players playing outside of Ireland, but at the same time we want to keep investing in people who are investing in our provincial game because, in the end, we need to keep our provincial game strong for our national team to be successful as well.
“Players are no different than other people, they want to challenge themselves. They want to do new things sometimes. The grass is always greener and as we’ve found with a lot of the players who have left, that it hasn’t been as green as first thought.  
“There are a number of players who have left and have either returned or have probably not had the success or the really positive experiences that they were looking for. I guess that’s a reminder to the players here that they are in a pretty good spot with the quality of the coaching they get. I think it’s super in the provinces, the conveyor belt that’s always coming through that is challenging them from the Academies in the provinces.
“Even the move to Limerick for Munster, the facility they’ve got there is fantastic, Leinster have got a purpose-built facility, Connacht’s facility has really improved and of course in Kingspan Ulster have got a fantastic training facility as well, so they are catered for in a number of different ways that contribute to positive growth and performance.
“Going away is a growth opportunity but it can also be a little bit stifling if you are out of your comfort zone and you don’t settle and you don’t get the opportunities because it’s a ruthless profession. And if you don’t get immediate success on arrival then you can be put back a few steps and miss that growth opportunity.”

Asked about suggestions that Munster’s Donnacha Ryan may move abroad next season, Schmidt commented: “It is disappointing if Donnacha Ryan goes because I think he has really grown into himself in the last short while. He had a long-term injury which kept him out of the game for a long time and that was incredibly frustrating for him and for the IRFU who were looking to get him involved as much as they could. 
“For Donnacha, he’ll make some personal decisions and sometimes people probably forget the human factor in decision-making – there are relationships involved, there are life experiences involved, and as much as we try to keep everyone playing in Ireland because we want to do that to support the provinces.”