Texts between Joe Schmidt and Chris Farrell show serious commitment to making Ireland world-beaters
"That was great for me, as well."
Joe Schmidt is immersed in rugby. It is his livelihood and his life.
You meet a lot of people in rugby that would prefer to talk about anything but the sport that pays their bills, but not Schmidt. Sure, he is clued in about business, politics and pop culture, but you get Schmidt at his most animated when you talk rugby.
He watches games the world over and is always looking to add new moves, tactical tweaks, training techniques and set-plays to his play-book. After Ireland beat New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium, in November, he was asked about the narrow-side switch that led to Jacob Stockdale's try. He replied:
"I'm always on the look-out and always keeping my eye out. I watch the Mitre 10 Cup [in New Zealand], and they've always got a couple of good ones. There was a good one recently that the Highlanders played and I said to the coaches, 'Maybe we can do this'."
That wide scope of Schmidt's extends to tracking the games and performances of Irish players abroad. Johnny Sexton [when he was at Racing 92] may still be the only foreign-based player to win an Ireland cap under Schmidt, but that does not mean that the Kiwi is closed off to the idea.
On Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby [from 32:00 below] Munster centre Chris Farrell spoke of the role Schmidt played in getting him back to these shores, from French side Grenoble.
Farrell was flagged as a special talent from his mid teens and Ulster coaches Gary Longwell, Niall Malone and Jonny Bell all made trips over to Fivemiletown to provide him with extra sessions and training drills. He was destined to be a long-term star for Ulster but two bad knee injuries hampered his progress.
"I first played for Ulster at 18," he says, "[and] put a bit of pressure on myself to be in a better place when I hit 21... I felt I needed that change of environment so I could get away from that sort of pressure."
He was 21 when he left Ulster for France but says 'I wasn't where I wanted to be' on his career path and he fancied a change, and the opportunity to be a starting centre in the Top 14. Farrell ended up playing three seasons of Top 14 rugby with Grenoble, under Bernard Jackman, until Munster came calling and he packed his bags to head for Ireland.
"I played against Ma'a Nonu, Mathieu Bastareaud and Dan Carter in my first year there. These guys were fellas I had watched playing from when I was young and I probably never expected myself to be playing in the same league as those lads, at that age, in a foreign league and a foreign team. It was a bit surreal."
The Tyrone native previously spoke on The Hard Yards before about Schmidt helping secure that switch and revealed more to Barry Murphy.
BARRY: "Yeah. And obviously that brought you into Joe Schmidt’s plans then, I think. You fit that role that he’s looking for from a centre – someone that can throw those loop passes, get their hands free, throw a wide pass. You’ve mentioned Joe was a big influence on you when you were in France. He kept in touch.”
CHRIS: "Yeah, definitely. Look, I certainly hope I’m the sort of centre that he’s looking for.
"Whenever I was in France I had a bit of contact from him and there was times that, midweek, I’d receive a text message from him and it would be, sort of, times in games from the weekend past – were I had done something and I could have done better, or something I had did well and he just wanted to highlight it.
"So we kept in touch a bit. Not a massive amount, but he certainly let me know that he was watching, and that was great for me as well."
Impressive to think that Schmidt, with the rake of talent the four provinces and their academies are producing, and with Test matches and overseas tours to plan for, was finding time to watch Grenoble games and compile highlights and work-ons for Farrell.
At the time of these messages - 2015 to 2017 - Ireland could call on the following players for their midfield: Robbie Henshaw, Gordon D'Arcy, Jared Payne, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Fergus McFadden. The Ireland coach saw something in Farrell that he liked.
Such is Schmidt's commitment to the Irish cause, though, and another reason why Ireland are now right up there with New Zealand as one of world rugby's best sides.
CHECK OUT THAT HOUSE OF RUGBY EPISODE HERE: