New Zealand attack coach Schmidt no ‘Ordinary Joe’

Joe Schmidt Assistant Coach and New Zealand's Coach Ian Foster during Autumn International Series match between England against New Zealand at Twickenham stadium, London

Joe Schmidt has won plaudits for both his coaching of Leinster, Ireland and now the All Blacks but also his tireless efforts in talking about epilepsy, from which his son Luke suffers. Seen here: Joe Schmidt (left) and All Blacks coach Ian Foster. Picture: Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto via AFP

Published Oct 18, 2023


Joe Schmidt titled his autobiography "Ordinary Joe" but whether the New Zealand attack coach likes it or not, both on and off the pitch he has extraordinary qualities.

The 58-year-old former teacher has won plaudits for both his coaching of Leinster, Ireland and now the All Blacks but also his tireless efforts in talking about epilepsy, from which his son Luke suffers.

"He is much appreciated in Ireland both for rugby and what he did in terms of giving a high profile to epilepsy as his son has it, like my boy," former Ireland fullback Hugo MacNeill told AFP.

"He has done some very important work for Epilepsy Ireland and he helped raise invaluable funds for it.”

Argentina assignment

The 58-year-old New Zealander is presently plotting the unravelling of the defence of Friday's Rugby World Cup semi-final opponents Argentina.

Schmidt's imprint was all over last Saturday's 28-24 defeat of Ireland, the team he transformed in a seven-year reign from 2013 to 2019.

MacNeill picked out two of those hallmarks as "the chips over the top into space (and) attacking from the back of the lineout”.

"I am delighted for him that he has done well with New Zealand. It cannot be easy to go in as an assistant coach after being top dog.

"But he has and done very well. I would have preferred he had done it with a different team!”

Schmidt first came to global rugby's attention when he was assistant coach from 2007-10 to compatriot Vern Cotter at Top 14 side Clermont.

"Joe has a good brain, he can analyse the game but also the players. Their traits, skillsets, weaknesses and strengths," Cotter told AFP.

"He uses that to both analyse the opposition for opportunities but also his own team to improve."

'Be a good person’

Those abilities bore fruit with Leinster, landing two successive European Cups, which secured him the job with a floundering side that was then Ireland.

He engineered a remarkable turnaround, transforming their fortunes and instilling a different mental attitude.

Three Six Nations titles, including the 2018 Grand Slam, and in the same year a historic home win over the All Blacks.

Less than a year later, though, the All Blacks brought the curtain down on his reign with a crushing 46-14 defeat in the World Cup quarter-finals.

"The legacy he left Irish rugby is massive," said Irish legend Johnny Sexton last week.

However, the manner of the 2019 World Cup defeat left its mark on Schmidt.

Never one who likes to talk much about himself or his feelings, he admitted he felt "a little bit broken.”

Then, as he walked in the door of his home in Dublin on his return from Japan, "Luke was seizing on the floor, Kellie is sitting alongside him and I'm massively disappointed and feeling sorry for myself and this kid's got to bounce back up off that on a regular basis," Schmidt recalled in an appearance on "The Late Late Show" in 2019.

Resilient character

He is, though, a resilient character but that may be down to the principles he and his wife Kellie have instilled in their four children.

"Each night we would have dinner at the table because that was a tradition," he told the Irish Times after the 2019 World Cup.

"Each time we would ask each of the kids: 'What did you do for someone else today?’

"And that is something we've tried to build into them.

"To win: you only have to be a good person.

"You don't have to win on the scoreboard. You only have to be a good person -- who does their best.”

Schmidt might be in charge on the training ground but he says Kellie has been in taking care of Luke.

"I just go to work, but my wife has done an unbelievable job in keeping the family together as well as looking after Luke," said Schmidt in 2018.

"He stays incredibly positive despite the number of times that he has had to be in and out of hospital.”

Schmidt says the travails of Luke -- now a young adult -- have taught him lessons, not least "being open" about his son's illness.

"I think the advice would be to keep (your children) close and keep (their illness) as normal as you can," he said.

"Routine is a friend and it keeps things ticking over, and it allows them to stay positive."