Joy at Schmidt’s contract extension – but bigger jobs lurk in 2017

SportBy Roy Curtis
Could Schmidt have one eye on bigger jobs in 2017?
Could Schmidt have one eye on bigger jobs in 2017?

JOE Schmidt’s gilded CV provides eloquent support for the thesis that here stands a coach with access to a bottomless stockpile of the narcotic of glory.

Schmidt has built an increasingly impressive coaching career on the virtual guarantee that he will supply to his employer the highest-grade opiate of substantial achievement.

With Leinster and Ireland the New Zealander has enhanced a reputation as a dream-maker who delivers to order, a visionary who wears his obsessive pursuit of excellence like a suit tailored on Saville Row.

At times Schmidt gives off the ultra-demanding, ever-striving, impossible-is-nothing air of a man for whom perfection might not be enough.

He is unrivalled as a harvester of silverware, a tactical grandmaster, a man-manager who coaxes from a player the very last of his potential.

Which is why the news that he has extended his contract with the IRFU until 2017 should be both wildly celebrated and greeted with the smallest pinch of dread.

Celebrated because it ensures Irish rugby access to the game’s sharpest mind for a further 24 months, provides cast-iron assurance that every opponent for the next two years - even the game's most iconic platoons - will be operating on a lower rung of tactical evaluation.

For those of a certain generation, whose dreams are still haunted by the trauma of the dog days when the national side was a resident of the sporting equivalent of a palliative care hospice, the extension of his contract is beyond price, a firewall against any opportunistic flames of failure.

But it is also possible to interpret this milestone moment as the hour glass turning, the commencement of the painful countdown to the departure from these shores of the greatest coach Ireland will ever know.

It doesn’t require the DNA of a conspiracy theorist to believe the fact that 2017 is the year inked into the contract is salted with real significance.

In 2017 the Lions tour New Zealand; in 2017 the contract of current All Blacks coach Steve Hansen expires; in 2017 the two most high profile jobs in world rugby will be vacant. Right now, Schmidt - who has never hid a desire to eventually return to his home place - is the outstanding candidate for both.

Maybe we are reaching for the fire alarm at the first sign of smoke.

Or perhaps we are dining on fillet of realism, recognising an obvious truth that a superintendent on whose watch a warehouse has been filled with Six Nations and European Cup silverware is going to have the world’s biggest teams fluttering their eyelashes - and their chequebooks - in his direction.

Clearly the gods dipped Schmidt in their premium batch of lifeblood.

It is the reason why Ireland, who have departed so many World Cups encased in a sarcophagus of dismay, are counting down the days to this autumn with enriched hope, daring to imagine that a nation that has never advanced beyond the quarter-finals might actually make Planet Rugby their own.

This is the Schmidt effect, to provide a Himalayan accumulation of belief, to make the highest peaks appear within reach.

The glass half-full mentality is then to ponder two more years where the production line at the dream factory continues to roll and rejoice

But those for whom the tankard is forever half empty – who have observed Leinster’s retreat into mid-peloton in the post Schmidt years - can’t but feel a little wistful, ponder the end of days, fear the sinkhole that could open beneath Irish rugby if Joe decides to return home in 2017.

In more ways than one, that is an all black scenario.