20 Nov 2018

Rugby: Schmidt’s path to the All Blacks isn’t guaranteed just yet

4:14 pm on 20 November 2018

Opinion - Last weekend's loss to the Irish hasn't just dented All Black pride and thrown a curveball into Rugby World Cup calculations. The more long term ramifications may well have to do with who is in charge of the All Blacks in 2020.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen.

Joe Schmidt's name has been in the frame to succeed Steve Hansen for the last couple of years. Photo: Photosport

If Saturday night in Dublin was a job interview for Joe Schmidt, then he nailed it. His name has been in the frame to succeed Steve Hansen for the last couple of years, given that he's taken Ireland from perennial Six Nations battlers to formidable front-runners. Seems like a no-brainer that he'd step into the All Black coaching role if it opens up, right? Well, even though he's the talk of the town this week, a triumphant return for Schmidt isn't that straight-forward.

First, a bit of background on a guy who grew up to become the current arch-nemesis of the All Blacks. Schmidt, like so many other successful rugby coaches, was a school teacher. He eventually took the New Zealand Secondary Schools side that led to a pathway to coaching Bay Of Plenty in the then-Air New Zealand Cup.

Again, like so many others, he found his road to a top Super Rugby gig in a gridlock - given that are only five jobs available. After a few years as Blues assistant (back when they weren't the absolute mess they are now, mind you), Schmidt left New Zealand to try his luck overseas.

After a stint at French club Clermont Auvergne, it was at Irish province Leinster where he made his ultimate breakthrough. Schmidt guided them to back-to-back Heineken Cup titles in 2011 and 2012, setting him up to take the Irish national side's head coaching job the following season.

The rest, as they say, is history. Three Six Nations championships and a Grand Slam, plus a prize that had been eluding the Irish for over 100 years: the scalp of the All Blacks.

The only glaring hole in Schmidt's career is success at the World Cup. Ireland were blitzed by Argentina in the quarter finals of the 2015 tournament, so the pressure is now firmly on them and their coach to deliver next year.

But, even if that is achieved, Hansen steps down and Schmidt commits to New Zealand rugby again, there's one other man with an exceptionally compelling case to take over the most important job in NZ sport.

Scott Robertson is well-liked by the media, and even fans of teams other than the Crusaders - which is no mean feat. More importantly, he's won two consecutive Super Rugby titles with them in his first two attempts.

Given the natural disdain for the northern hemisphere game that exists, made starkly obvious last week when Dane Coles admitted he hadn't watched any of the European Cup because he didn't want to pay for the Rugby Channel, it could well be a smoother transition for Robertson to be All Black coach. Especially since he's already in charge of a great deal of them anyway at the Crusaders.

Of course, there's a lot of water to go under the bridge from now until a new coach will be in charge of the All Blacks. However, the looming showdown is a reminder of just how long it's been since a proper head to head challenge for the coaching job happened. That was when Robbie Deans had a tilt at Sir Graham Henry's position after the 2007 World Cup, and things got very juicy back then.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.