Con­way praises ‘ridicu­lous, ridicu­lous coach’ Sch­midt

Mun­ster winger high­lights the broad sweep of the coach’s radar

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Johnny Wat­ter­son attheA­viva Sta­dium

Joe Sch­midt’s head was wrecked. He said it last week. An­drew Con­way’s head was not at all. A hat-trick against the USA and all the trim­mings, Con­way was clear and de­lib­er­ate.

“Scor­ing tries is ob­vi­ously great. That’s what you’re after,” he says un­apolo­get­i­cally.

“I prob­a­bly tar­geted this game. Ar­gentina, I only got a few min­utes; New Zealand I missed out on and Italy kind of passed me by. I was adamant that I wasn’t go­ing to let it pass me by.” In his ear was Sch­midt’s voice whis­per­ing “don’t let this pass you by”.

The Ir­ish coach has been many things and Con­way is abun­dantly clear after the tor­tured chore­og­ra­phy of a clouded week just gone. All that spec­u­la­tion for a man of clar­ity.

It seemed in pri­vate Sch­midt has been dili­gently putting his af­fairs in or­der while fac­ing the rip cur­rent of pub­lic de­mand on what he was do­ing.

The closer to the USA the greater the un­der­tow and the dull re­al­i­sa­tion that the adult in the room, who had re­branded the Ir­ish team along­side the All Blacks, was shift­ing to­wards the exit door.

Con­way spoke about the phys­i­cal act of writ­ing things down, the clear vi­sion it gave him in per­form­ing. But Sch­midt’s in­flu­ences are tat­tooed in his mind. Per­haps for­ever. “He’s just a ridicu­lous, ridicu­lous rugby coach. You guys don’t even know the half of it,” said Con­way. “It’s just in­cred­i­ble, the stan­dards that he sets, the stan­dards that he drives. Ev­ery­thing.

‘In­tense en­vi­ron­ment’

“Ev­ery­thing that he drives, it makes you a bet­ter player. But be­cause we are in for lit­tle snip­pets through­out the year; Novem­ber for the month; Six Na­tions for a few weeks, you re­ally have an in­tense en­vi­ron­ment. Then you can feed on that when­ever you go away, try and hold onto it be­fore you are back in the next time.

“It’s pretty amaz­ing how good of a rugby coach he is. Even some­times when you are not se­lected, you al­most know it’s prob­a­bly the right call.”

Where Ire­land take ben­e­fit is from the broad sweep of Sch­midt’s radar. He is a face-to-face coach but the all-en­com­pass­ing pas­sion for im­prov­ing teams and play­ers by keep­ing him­self in­formed even touches those who be­lieved they were far from his track­ing sys­tem. The faintest beep reg­is­ters. “I re­mem­ber when I wasn’t even near the Ire­land team, I had a re­la­tion­ship with him through play­ing for Le­in­ster,” says Con­way. “I could open a line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with him and he would send me on com­ments about my game. It could be from any game. He would have watched it thor­oughly. He ob­vi­ously picks stuff up through hard work. He just has a knack for rugby.”

To some play­ers Sch­midt might be too much. His de­mands go far be­yond the pages of the play­book and train­ing ses­sion. Its strength is that the cul­ture he cre­ated, he lives him­self.

Si­mon Zebo and Ian Madi­gan, two ap­peal­ing play­ers with flare and cre­ativ­ity but per­haps not overly open to pre­scrip­tive play, are the ones who were al­lowed go. But if some have found that de­tailed, per­sonal rugby cul­ture too nar­row, what comes back is Sch­midt has al­ways given far more than he has taken. “He just makes you a bet­ter player. You come in and he’s all over ev­ery­thing – your be­hav­iour, your habits, ev­ery­thing is mon­i­tored,” adds the winger.

“You know in camp that they are eye­ing ev­ery­thing. You’re on the com­puter, who is do­ing their ex­tra habits. They might not nec­es­sar­ily say any­thing but you get the feel­ing that ev­ery­thing is be­ing mon­i­tored.”

In Con­way’s eyes Sch­midt has cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment where there is a path­way for im­prove­ment, where tal­ent is one skill set to which many more can be added. Mak­ing it tor­tu­ously dif­fi­cult for play­ers is part of the tem­per­ing process. Now the en­vi­ron­ment is bru­tally com­pet­i­tive for in­di­vid­u­als. But the team is stronger. He has opened eyes and made good play­ers great play­ers. Johnny Sex­ton, Conor Mur­ray, Tadhg Fur­long and an­other gen­er­a­tion al­ready led by James Ryan. Do play­ers want him to stay? “I can only speak for my­self in that, pretty much what I just said,” says Con­way. Is he a one off coach? “I don’t know to be hon­est. He is an in­cred­i­ble coach,” he adds. “There’s no one I’ve come across who is specif­i­cally like him. The great thing is the lead­er­ship group are se­ri­ous driv­ers of the stan­dards. Whether he goes or whether he stays is not for me to say, but . . . he has built that around him. And that’s part of how good he is.”

The legacy is in place with play­ers, re­sults, world rank­ing and cul­ture and be­cause of that a World Cup in­flated with im­por­tance. Sch­midt has given Ire­land hope backed up with an ex­pec­ta­tion of de­liv­ery.

With it a coun­try’s mind­set has also been changed.

He just makes you a bet­ter rugby player. You come in and he’s all over ev­ery­thing

PHO­TO­GRAPH: TOMMY DICK­SON/INPHO

Ire­land’s An­drew Con­way scores a try dur­ing the au­tumn in­ter­na­tional against the USA at the Aviva Sta­dium.

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