How Schmidt found his true calling in Ireland
on about 11 or 12kg [almost two stone]. He came back the next season a totally different bloke. That is why he is so resilient and resourceful as a coach.”
Schmidt is clearly still a frustrated player. He has been known to pull a muscle joining in training with the Ireland team. It is clear that at least some of his siblings match that drive. One of his brothers – who he mentioned before the Samoa match – has a doctorate in Pacific Island history. Schmidt visited him in Apia as a teenager. Another is a very successful businessman. They were clearly close as a family. Schmidt had planned to move back to New Zealand, once his Ireland role ended, to look after his mother, before she died earlier this year.
Schmidt played 29 games for Manawatu between 1988 and 1991, the highlight a narrow 28-23 defeat by France in 1989, in which Schmidt scored. But it was clear, even before an Achilles tendon injury in his mid-20s finished him off as a player, that his talents lay elsewhere.
Again, Schmidt’s drive, commitment and ability with people shine through in the story of how he first left New Zealand, and discovered his real calling. Aged 24, having trained as a teacher, Donaldson recommended the young winger to a player-coach role in Westmeath, Ireland. Schmidt, who went over with his wife Kellie, rapidly transformed Mullingar RFC’S fortunes. “It was an eye-opener,” recalled Willie Macken, who played as a winger with the team. “All of a sudden, from just running, as junior rugby was all about back then, we had to play with a ball.” Macken said that between one session and the next Schmidt raised the ball count from four between four teams to upwards of 50.
There can be no better measure of his coaching abilities, first exhibited as an ambitious 24-yearold, that seven survivors from that record 60-0 defeat – Rory Best, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Cian Healy, Rob Kearney, Keith Earls and Peter O’mahony – are likely to start in Saturday’s quarter-final.