Schmidt may return to NZ

COMING HOME: Heineken Cup-winning coach Josef Schmidt will be returning to New Zealand.
COMING HOME: Heineken Cup-winning coach Josef Schmidt will be returning to New Zealand.

Heineken Cup-winning coach Josef Schmidt will be returning to New Zealand but it won't be for a year at the earliest.

He has a season to run on his contract with champion Irish province Leinster, which he has guided to two Heineken Cups in two years.

And Schmidt, who was back in Palmerston North yesterday, isn't putting rugby before all. He said he would be happy to coach a provincial side, or even a school first XV again.

"I don't have any great coaching ambitions,'' Schmidt said.

The former Manawatu wing coached the Palmerston North Boys' High School first XV for four years and took them to two national finals. He enjoyed working with the Boys' High second XV this week and loves seeing two Manawatu players in the All Blacks.

But now he is among the world's most high-profile professional coaches. In Palmerston North this week he could walk the streets all but anonymously; in Dublin where rugby's profile has escalated, he is always accosted on the way to the movies or the supermarket.

"The kids get frustrated if I get waylaid.''

When in Auckland recently, he was spotted having lunch with Blues chief executive Andy Dalton. Schmidt was the Blues assistant under coaches Peter Sloane and David Nucifora.

"I'm not sure what will happen up there,'' Schmidt said. "I do think whoever they get there will need support.

"That's like Mark Hammett [at the Hurricanes] who has shown character in making tough decisions.''

But when he comes back it won't necessarily be for rugby. He'd be happy to return to teaching  he is one paper off completing a masters degree in management and before rugby coaching took over, he was the deputy headmaster at Tauranga Boys' College.

"I might do a little more study, especially now I can speak French.''

A return to New Zealand would be for family reasons, with his daughter to study at Massey University and his youngest son, Luke, still having operations because of his brain tumour problems.

They began when the family was in France and have been tough, especially on wife Kelly.

Fortunately, even for away games in Europe, Schmidt leaves home on Friday and is back by Sunday morning. He remembers being tempted to stay at the Blues after helping them to the Super 14 semifinals.

"But I thought it would be exciting to have a sojourn in France.''

So off he went to Clermont Auvergne with his former Bay of Plenty head coach, Vern Cotter.

"Leinster was a phone call out of the blue,'' Schmidt said. 

When he started in Dublin, he had five losses from his first six games. 

"It was pretty tough to start with. One guy wrote that I'd lost the changing room.''

But the players rallied round and his team is now the best in Europe. Leinster players dominate the touring Ireland team.

Ten started  the Christchurch test. About five others were injured and couldn't tour.

While the Irishmen play more games than Kiwi Super Rugby men, Schmidt denies they play too much.

They play all Heineken Cup games, in which 

Jonathan Sexton kicked 90 per cent of his goal kicks, but are used only sparingly in league games.

"Last season they played as much for Ireland as they did for Leinster.''

And the Irish permit only five foreigners per team, one of whom at Leinster was All Black Brad Thorn. Schmidt said the goal-kickers would be left practising after training but Thorn would stay and do shuttles and down-and-ups, all 118 kilograms of him, aged 37.

Schmidt attended the Auckland test and enjoyed just being able to have a meal and a couple of pints instead of being in a coach's box.

Manawatu Standard