Schmidt responds to his captain’s lack of trust claims, says Best spoke ‘inadvertently’

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By Larry Ryan

Joe Schmidt has refuted Rory Best’s suggestion that the Ireland head coach didn’t trust his players enough during the World Cup. And he says Best has since texted him to explain he spoke ‘inadvertently’.

But Schmidt admits he has been hurt by the criticism that has come his way since Ireland’s World Cup disappointment.

Speaking earlier this week at a promotional appearance for Specsavers, Schmidt’s now retired captain Best suggested the coach had been too focussed on fine details in Japan, hurting his players’ ability to lead.

“I think we started to become – not dictated to – but we just let Joe do everything,” Best said.

“The great thing about 2018 was we had our own voice and our own mind. There was that freedom at the end of the week to step into a space to lead. You can’t just turn up at the Aviva stadium at five o’clock ‘Right, it’s our turn to lead.’ You can get a bit lost.

“I think in 2019 that end of the week space started to be filled a bit much with coaches.”

Best referenced the approach on the morning of Ireland’s defeat by New Zealand.

Schmidt responds to his captain's lack of trust claims, says Best spoke 'inadvertently’
Rory Best.

“The morning of the New Zealand game, whatever happened, the coaches wanted a huddle and to go over some plays. I think there was a little worry at that stage that we hadn’t emphasised something enough.

“Everyone was a little bit… too much detail and probably too much tension. Joe just needed to trust us. He’s the best coach I’ve ever worked with bar nobody, but just trust that it’s there. It was a big game for him, such a big game for me.

“You want to make sure no stone is left unturned, sometimes by doing that and you end up spoon-feeding the players and they go ‘Right, okay, that’s been said, so that’s good enough, I don’t need to mentally prepare for it.”

But speaking at an event last night at Limerick Concert Hall to promote his book Ordinary Joe, Schmidt played down the significance of that meeting.

“The morning of the New Zealand game, the players had the morning off. And we went for a walk outside the hotel and we huddled up for maybe five or six minutes. I spent, I reckon, 60 to 90 seconds talking myself, that was it. Then the players play a game where they line up backs against forwards and they throw the ball…

“I think it’s hard to say it was super significant but if Bestie felt it was then it was. Because their mental preparation for the game is their own and it’s one of the things that I mention in the book, it’s very very different how players prepare themselves.

“One player may come out and give you a cheeky wink, and he’s as relaxed as can be, and another may be incredibly wound up, as tight as a drum. But that’s how he feels he needs to be to play at his best. So you’re trying to cater for 23 different personalities.”

Schmidt says Best has since been in touch to explain his comments.

“I am kind of a detail operator, because if everyone knows their detail there is a more seamless cohesion in the team. But I did get a text from Rory Best saying unequivocally that I did step back and the players stepped in and took the space.

And he feels that inadvertently he may have said things in the wrong manner.

Best’s comments generated another wave of headlines and Schmidt admits he has been upset with media coverage since the World Cup.

“I got a text from my wife just saying are you ok?” he told interviewer Joe Molloy.

“I am ok. But I think I’m less ok when it affects my family. I kind of write about it in the book – a 10-year-old kid coming home from school crying because his dad is a shite coach! I was trying to keep that from him!

“That’s tough. It’s all very well people saying you shouldn’t be sensitive to the media but I’ve always found the media are very sensitive to what you may say. And sometimes pick out bits of it that you probably think aren’t in the context that you’ve tried to describe them.

Schmidt responds to his captain's lack of trust claims, says Best spoke 'inadvertently’
Joe Schmidt

“I think it’s always a bit of a tightrope you walk and you’re a little bit exposed, especially as a head coach. It’s one of the reasons why I never really wanted to be a head coach. I never really wanted to be a rugby coach actually but that’s a long way back and another story.

“But yeah it’s not a great day when there’s a headline on the front page saying ‘Best blames Japan failure on Schmidt’ because it’s not even accurate. But it doesn’t have to be accurate to sell papers.”

Schmidt does accept his downplaying of last year’s Six Nations campaign to take a longer view towards the Japan tournament may have put extra pressure on the players.

“I think right from this time last year when i said to them, look, we’ve won three of the last five Six Nations, we don’t need another Six Nations, it’s all about the World Cup now, maybe I did contribute to the extra tension, the extra anxiety.”

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