Did you ever read a book you didn’t like? I have and I’m sure you have. I’ve read plenty but the one that really stands out was Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”. Firstly, the name is stupid because “Da Vinci” means “of Vinci” where Leonardo was born rather than it being a surname as we’d understand it today. There are plenty of reasons why I didn’t like it, but the bottom line is that I didn’t like it and the world didn’t end.
Over the weekend I finally managed to read Joe Schmidt’s Ordinary Joe and here’s my review. Hang onto your hats. It was fine. I won’t remember much of it by this time next year if I’m being honest. He might be the greatest Irish coach of all time, and there’s no debating that, but a great writer he is not.
I get why he decided to write it himself though. A ghost-writer’s job is to make reality more interesting and I get the real impression that Schmidt wanted to 100% control how his words came across.
One of the things that came across strongly in the book was Schmidt’s refusal to bury his players, even after he was away from the “bubble”. He went to great lengths to dance around the decision to exclude Toner from the 2019 World Cup squad and the idea that it was for a possible citing seems like nonsense, but it’s the kind of nonsense that handwaves anything that might come across like criticism of a player who Schmidt had known for nine years.
Schmidt probably had other reasons for excluding Toner, but he wasn’t going to bury him in a book a few months after the fact. In that regard, Schmidt comes across like a thoroughly decent sort. In the same vein, it might have been easy for Schmidt to hint at blaming the players for Ireland’s exit, but his view was more nuanced and nuance, as we know, is boring but necessary.
Schmidt blamed a lack of week-to-week focus and other small margin issues for Ireland’s deterioration. It’s not sexy but it’s closer to the truth than any sensational one big reason that might sell a few extra books but wouldn’t be entirely accurate.
David Nucifora’s post World Cup review brought up a few interesting nuggets when compared with Schmidt’s book but hindsight is a great thing. Ireland’s “game plan” should have evolved, the review reckoned, but after that game plan won everything around it in 2018, changing it as radically as seems to be en-vogue after the World Cup could have gone as badly wrong as not changing it.
When viewed through the prism of failure, everything becomes easier to paint. Did you change things and lose? Well, you shouldn’t have changed. Did you keep things the same and lose? Well, duh, you should have changed things. Obviously.
Had Schmidt changed up what Ireland were doing but Ireland had still gone out in the quarters, I’m sure we’d be reading about how Schmidt started doubting himself and, obsessed with tinkering, he foolishly went away from what had won a Slam, won a tour in Australia and beat the All Blacks a few months before the tournament. Hindsight is easy. Making big decisions on play style one year out from a World Cup is not.
One area where Schmidt has no problem burying people is in his section about the media. And, when we come into the criticism that Schmidt has shipped in the media over the last few weeks, I think we can see how these two things might be linked.
Schmidt doesn’t come across like a guy who’s happy shipping criticism from guys who “reckon” they know what’s going wrong. How many times did you see Schmidt address criticism of a certain aspect of Ireland’s play by bringing out stats or other proof at a press conference?
He’s got an understandably low tolerance for rugby journalist spoofology and he gives both barrels to a few unnamed – but obviously identifiable – perpetrators in his media section. Anyone who you read going on about Schmidt’s legacy being “tarnished” is probably someone who’s ego is a little bit sore after a losing run-in with Joe, either recently or over the last few years.
Schmidt seems like a decent guy who you can paint as being one thing or the other based on what he gives you or takes away. If you’re a player who he didn’t rate, you probably don’t like him. If you’re a journalist who’s nonsense was called out by Schmidt, you probably hate his guts.
If you’re anyone else, you’ve got to look at Schmidt’s record; Six Nations, Grand Slams, Heineken Cups, PRO12s, first ever wins over the All Blacks, Southern Hemisphere tour wins and realise that two World Cup quarter final exits don’t really tarnish anything. He left the Irish coaching seat in a better place than he found it, and that’s all anyone can hope to do.