WELLINGTON – Two-time World Cup winner Conrad Smith has backed Ireland's Joe Schmidt to replace Steve Hansen as All Blacks coach following his stunning success in the Six Nations.
Smith added his voice to a growing chorus of New Zealanders calling for fellow Kiwi Schmidt to be given a shot at coaching the national side after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
“He's doing great with Ireland, he's someone who could potentially come back and coach the All Blacks, there's a few (candidates) around,” Smith told reporters in Ireland.
“It's not an outrageous thought and even before now, the last two or three years, he was already talked about as someone we'd love to have back.”
Schmidt took over Ireland in 2013 and masterminded their first ever victory over the All Blacks in Chicago in 2016.
He has guided them to three Six Nations titles in five years, including this year's Grand Slam, which was sealed by a famous St. Patrick's Day win over England at Twickenham.
Both Schmidt and Hansen's contracts end after the 2019 World Cup, when New Zealand will be chasing their third consecutive trophy and fourth overall.
Smith, a 94-Test centre who ended his international career after winning his second World Cup in 2015 and will retire from all rugby at the end fo the current campaign, said Schmidt should be a leading contender for Hansen's role.
New Zealand Rugby has previously said it wants continuity in its coaching ranks, with current assistant coach Ian Foster regarded as favourite to succeed Hansen.
But Smith said Schmidt's lack of experience with New Zealand's national coaching set-up and Kiwi Super Rugby teams should not be a problem, given his success in the northern hemisphere.
“People realise it's a global game, it really helps if you've experienced the way rugby is played and operates up here (northern hemisphere),” he said. “It can only help your CV and your intel about the game, so I don't think that'd be much of an issue.”
New Zealand pundits expressed similar views after Ireland's victory over England, with Dominion-Post rugby writer Tony Smith saying Schmidt had built a compelling case.
“It all adds up to Schmidt being the complete coaching package -- the only serious rival to Hansen as the best international coach of the last decade,” he wrote.
Sky Sports NZ rugby commentator Scott Stevenson said the All Blacks' ongoing success relied upon the team appointing the best coaches.
“Can we make sure this guy's in the running to be the next All Blacks coach?” he said.
“If Joe Schmidt is not part of the conversation when Steve Hansen decides to hang up his coaching whistle then we have serious issues as a nation.”