by Kristian Ross
A few years ago, following an Ireland press conference I wrote an article about my anger towards Declan Kidney and how the national team simply wasn't going to go forward under his leadership and due to the selection of players. Aside from the obvious Grand Slam in 2009 and making the quarter finals of the RWC2011 in New Zealand, Kidney was a spent force, clinging on to his job whilst Irish Rugby suffered at his hands. It was time for him to go.
When the IRFU finally decided that his contract wouldn't be renewed, many breathed a sigh of collective breath and the talk turned to who would replace the man from Munster. Who had the character, the ability and the foresight to turn Ireland into world beaters. I will admit, when Joe Schmidt was appointed, I was disappointed. Not due to his record, it’s exemplary and in fairness on his record alone, he deserved the job. It just didn't feel right for me. Sitting here now, I realised that I am probably the biggest fool in Europe, perhaps the world. Joe Schmidt has revolutionised the Irish national side. He has taken a team that had the ability, unlocked their potential, trained them, told them that they can do it and they have delivered. Even after the famous defeat to the All Blacks last year, you couldn't deny that there was something special, that we were going forward, not just with little steps, but with giant strides and sure enough, just a few months later, Ireland were crowned Six Nations champions.
Summer came and the Argentinian tour was all to easy, but now Schmidt had the point to prove. South Africa in Dublin, the world number two ranked team had just been the All Blacks in the month previous and were looking to give Schmidt’s Ireland one of their toughest tests yet. Amazingly it was exactly the opposite. The script turned on its head. Never have I seen such ferocious work at the breakdown. Composure. Class. Ability. Georgia dispatched and then the Wallabies. An epic encounter in which at times looked like it was slipping away. Signed, sealed, delivered, Joe Schmidt had led Ireland to a 3-0 record in the Autumn tests, and a 90% win record overall as Ireland finished 2014 with just a single defeat and then had his appendix out for good measure.
It’s not just the way that Schmidt has proved that even the youngest of players have the talent to go out and beat the very best in world rugby. But the way he has even managed to induce the belief in the older of Irish internationals. Gordon D’Arcy still looks on point and able to handle the twelve spot, meanwhile he’s saved Andrew Trimble’s international career, something the Ulster winger freely admits.
Going into a World Cup year, I don't think I’ve ever been more optimistic of really going places. Call it premature, but I’ve already got the champagne on order for a Grand Slam in the Six Nations. Schmidt has taken us to third in the world, and you simply can’t deny that we look like the best northern hemisphere nation. England 2015 is twelve months away and the talk is that are Ireland contenders. Well, the host nation have been tipped by many. If they can do it… we certainly can.
Kristian. 20. Geordie. Fond of Wasps, Falcons and Ulster. @Kristian7Ross