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'Wealth of knowledge': The 600km road trip Schmidt took to meet Wallabies stars ahead of Super Rugby launch

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14th February, 2024
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Incoming Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt doesn’t officially start until next month, but the New Zealander is already impressing his new players after making a surprise visit to see them on Wednesday morning.

With representatives from all five Australian Super Rugby franchises on deck in Auckland for the launch of the 2024 competition, Schmidt went old school by turning down a Zoom call with the players and instead drove the best part of 300 kilometres and three-and-a-half hours from Lake Taupo to grab a coffee with them instead.

After last year’s tumultuous World Cup campaign, which culminated in Eddie Jones opting to leave one season into a five-year deal, Schmidt’s showing of commitment was just the remedy needed to raise the spirits in the hearts of several men he will likely call upon later in the year.

Indeed, four of the Super Rugby captains on deck – Allan Alaalatoa (Brumbies), Jake Gordon (Waratahs), Tate McDermott (Reds) and Rob Leota (Rebels) – have pulled on the gold jersey, while Michael Wells, who won’t lead the Force in 2024, was part of Dave Rennie’s wider squad in 2022.

“The five of us captains had a little sit down with him this morning, just a very casual chat because we’ve got to get the ball rolling,” McDermott told The Roar.

“It was good to hear from him.

“Just from that brief chat, he’s obviously got a great rugby brain.

“When he starts to put his team together, I think it’ll be good for everyone.”

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Waratahs captain Jake Gordon, Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa, Rebels captain Rob Leota, Force captain Michael Wells and Reds captain Tate McDermott at the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific Season Launch in Auckland. (Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

Gordon, who didn’t feature under Eddie Jones in 2023 but was considered for a late call-up before concussion scuppered that prospect, said it was pleasing to see Schmidt get on the “front foot” and drive home the importance of Super Rugby success.

“It was just a catch up to see the different personalities we have. But he wants to understand where we’re coming from and our expectations,” Gordon said.

“He got in front of us. We didn’t have anything planned and he must have been over here and he said let’s catch up in the morning.

“Logistically he’s trying to get on the front foot and plan things. There have been times that we haven’t had clarity between RA and the Super teams and he thinks that’s really important.”

Leota added: “All the captains are here, so he was seeing how all the clubs are going and providing a bit of feedback. He seems pretty quiet but you can tell he has a wealth of knowledge.”

Former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has taken over from Eddie Jones (L). (Photo by David Rogers – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Imagesges)

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Different from Eddie Jones?

“Yeah, I’d say different,” Leota said.

“I think any change is good. It can be good for the players, and it gives us a fresh start. It was cool to see him come up and make the effort.”

Schmidt, who was on deck in Roma to watch the Reds smash the Waratahs last weekend in their second trial, officially starts on March 1.

Although the former Ireland coach and All Blacks assistant will remain in New Zealand over the coming weeks, the respected rugby figure will get the chance to see all the Australian coaches at Super Round early next month in Melbourne.

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