All Change for Irish Rugby

So now we know that Joe Schmidt is to leave Irish Rugby after the World Cup in 2019. We also know, in so much as anything is certain, that Andy Farrell will take over the reins, providing continuity and a degree of certainty that might otherwise have stalled the massive progress made over the course of recent years and 2018 in particular.

The announcement was made in a statement issued by the IRFU at 9 AM this morning.

Joe Schmidt has today announced that he will finish coaching following the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year. Andy Farrell will become Ireland head coach after the tournament.

Speaking about his decision to finish coaching, Joe Schmidt said: “I have decided to finish coaching and will prioritise family commitments after the Rugby World Cup in 2019. I feel that Irish Rugby is in good hands. The management and players have been incredible to work with and the tremendous support we have had, particularly at home in the Aviva Stadium, but wherever we have travelled has been uplifting.

“Thank you to the IRFU for their support and patience and thanks also to so many people who have adopted my family and me, making us feel part of the community here in Ireland.

“There are some inspiring challenges over the next 11 months so there’s plenty of motivation for me to continue working hard, alongside the other management staff so that the team can be as competitive as possible.”

Schmidt was appointed Ireland head coach ahead of the 2013 GUINNESS Series and has overseen the most successful period in the national team’s history, winning three Six Nations titles (2014, 2015 and 2018), including a Grand Slam this year, a first win on South African soil (2016), a first win over New Zealand (2016), and most recently a series win in Australia and a maiden home victory over the All Blacks (both 2018).

Two unbeaten records have also been set during this period with a 12-match unbeaten run straddling the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons and a record 12 consecutive home victories achieved from November 2016 to November 2018.

Schmidt has utilised 99 players and capped 54 new Ireland internationals over the 62 games of his coaching reign to date, achieving a 74% win ratio. Ireland have also attained their highest ever world ranking of number two under his watch. Last night he was honoured as the World Rugby Coach of the Year for 2018 and Ireland were named the World Rugby Team of the Year.

IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne commented: “I would like to thank Joe, and his family, on behalf of the IRFU Union Committee, all the staff of Irish Rugby and every rugby supporter, for everything he has done for the game in Ireland.

“Joe has travelled to clubs throughout the country, assisted with our sponsor programme and attended a huge number of charity events, helping to raise vital funding for those who need it most.

“Sport has the ability to lift people out of the day-to-day concerns of life and Joe, and his team, have provided historic moments of great joy, that will live long in the memories of everyone in the rugby family.

“Of course, this is not yet the end, and we look forward an exciting and challenging 11 months for Irish Rugby during Joe’s final Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup in Japan. On a personal level, I would like to thank Joe for his warmth, his time, honesty and his genuine interest in everything that we do in Irish Rugby to grow the game.”

IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora said: “Joe’s contribution to Irish Rugby is broader than just the success achieved with the national team. He has had a hugely positive influence on the entire professional system with both his rugby intellect and his eagerness to invest in and develop both players and coaches throughout the country.

“In conversations with Joe you got a clear sense that this was a very tough decision for him knowing how much he enjoys working with this group of coaches and players, but it is a decision that Joe, Kellie and the kids have made as a family and that is to be respected.

“The next 11 months will include a really competitive Six Nations and a World Cup campaign with Joe driving the standards that this group have demanded of themselves over the past five years. Regardless of what happens on the pitch over this period of time we are all clearly aware and thankful of the better place that Joe will be leaving Irish Rugby in post the Rugby World Cup.”

Meanwhile, the IRFU have announced that current defence coach Andy Farrell will become Ireland head coach following the Rugby World Cup next Year. The 43-year-old former rugby league and union international joined the Ireland management team in 2016 ahead of the summer tour of South Africa.

Farrell is a key figure in Schmidt’s successful coaching group which has seen a number of milestones achieved., including the 2018 Grand Slam, a first Test victory in South Africa, the historic wins over New Zealand in the last two years and the summer series success in Australia.

Before joining the Ireland set-up the Wigan man coached with England (2012 to 2015) and English Premiership side Saracens. He has coached on the two most recent successful Lions tours which produced a series win in Australia and a drawn series in New Zealand.

Speaking about taking over from Joe as Ireland head coach, Farrell commented: “It is a privilege to be considered for such a prestigious role. I have learned a lot from Joe over the past few seasons and I will continue to learn from him over the next year as the coaching group and players focus on competing in two huge tournaments in 2019.”

Schmidt said: “The coaches have been fantastic to work with and Andy has made a big impact since coming into the group. His ability to lead and his understanding of the game will ensure that the group will continue to move forward.”

Browne stated: “We are delighted to have secured Andy as incoming head coach. As part of Joe’s management team Andy has already helped to deliver huge performances and I know he will continue to inspire our players for years to come. Andy has world class coaching credentials and we are pleased to have a road-map for an orderly transition post Rugby World Cup to the 2019 Six Nations.”

Nucifora added: “We are incredibly fortunate to have a coach of the calibre of Andy Farrell in Irish Rugby. He has proven through his work ethic and success with Ireland and the Lions over the last number of years that he is the person to take Irish Rugby forward after Rugby World Cup 2019.

“The close working relationship that our current coaching group have and what they will continue to gain over the next year with Joe still at the helm leaves Andy and Irish Rugby in the enviable position of having continuity before building the road forward.

“This appointment provides certainty and continuity beyond the World Cup with Andy leading the coaching group through the next World Cup cycle to the 2023 tournament in France. The coaching group are contracted beyond next year’s World Cup which again provides continuity for the players ahead of the 2020 Six Nations Championship.”

The decision then certainly wasn’t a surprise to the IRFU who had time to plan and announce and avoid the speculation that might otherwise have arisen.

All change then, and yet hopefully the trajectory will remain the same.

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