What’s it Gonna Be, Joe?

Having gone through the rapid turnaround of a new regime in football, today will be D-Day for the same in Rugby. Joe Schmidt has promised his decision on his future beyond Japan 2019 around lunchtime today and fans are braced for what will seem like the end of an era, perhaps a little before time.

If Schmidt decides to pledge his long-term future to Ireland it will be greeted with joy given that he has raised the national team to a level previously unimagined. Last night in Monaco he was absent for the news of his announcement of his own accolade as World Rugby Coach of the Year, Johnny Sexton’s as Player of the Year and Ireland as Team of the Year.

He had other things on his mind as he spent the day with family just putting the final details together on what today’s announcement would be and what it would mean for them.

Sexton’s announcement as player of the Year puts him ahead of Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara in terms of that accolade. He is the first player from the Northern Hemisphere to be selected since 2011 and only the second Irishman ever after Keith Wood back in 2001.

Declan Kidney won the Award for Manager of the Year back in 2009 but Ireland has never previously won the Team gong.

So if Joe Schmidt is to follow the path of his original home rather than his adopted one, he will be moving to New Zealand after the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The two most recent All Black Managers Steve Hansen and Graham Henry both took over the job at the age Schmidt is now. They have won the International Manager of the Year Award nine times between them and Schmidt would appear to be the natural successor.

If it is to be the case how will that affect our preparation for the World Cup?

The feeling is that it would at best be neutral and at worst that it could lessen the strong wind that has filled our sails over the past year.

When Sir Alex Ferguson announced his departure as man United Manager he did so after they had won the Premier League title. It was not possible to judge the impact of his doing the job knowing that the clock was running down. The aftermath of losing a strong manager is generally not pretty and the feeling must be that in an ideal world we would not have to see what it might be in the grey area of keeping going to a natural high point while at the same time getting ready to take over our main rivals to getting there.

It is highly unlikely it could ever even be considered in any other sport or area of business but perhaps rugby is different.

Perhaps there is a natural life cycle to how much good can be done without the introduction of fresh thinking and fresh blood. The two names in the frame as potential successors, Andy Farell and Stuart Lancaster are both highly talented and highly regarded but at this point, before we have climed the highest mountain and become World Champions, neither are the man who is personally so credited with being the critical single element in the heights we have attained.

Maybe it will be academic, maybe Schmidt will say it’s Ireland all the way, but that seems unlikely and so, in a regime which has always prided itself on making sure that all the small details are looked after, we will enter into a period of uncertainty.

At least it cannot be said we live in anything but the most interesting of times for Irish sport.

Image Credit: Oisin Kenniry, Inpho.ie

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