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'Talent can be fickle': Schmidt avoids rushing to conclusions as JOC calls for 'Reds-heavy' Wallabies

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18th March, 2024
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As James O’Connor called on Joe Schmidt to pick a “Reds-heavy” Wallabies squad following their strong start to the Super Rugby season, the new national coach was keeping his powder dry and wary of rushing to conclusions.

Instead, Schmidt, who said he was buoyed by Australia’s “promising” start to the Super Rugby season, insisted consistency would be the key to selection under his watch.

“One of the things I have learned in coaching professionally for 20-odd years is that you don’t jump into decisions around players in a short-term window,” Schmidt told reporters at Sydney Harbour to coincide with the release of tickets for next year’s British and Irish Lions Tour.

“I like to take a longer-term view and have a decent opportunity to have a look at players.

“To give you an example, Rob Valetini, I thought that was his best effort on the weekend. He started the season a little bit slow.

“If you were looking at some players over a two or three-week period you might not get the real insights into how they play and what they’re capable of by being too short-term in the period of time you’re judging them over. So, an opportunity for you to come back at me on that probably in a couple of weeks’ time.”

Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt says talent alone won’t earn you selection in the national side. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Schmidt’s comments are yet another move away from the Eddie Jones regime, with the former Wallabies coach partial to namedropping individual players.

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The New Zealander’s decision to keep his cards close to his chest has merit given the unfulfilled potential that has regularly dogged Australian rugby over the past two decades.

And although John Eales spoke minutes before Schmidt and said he was confident the national team could reemerge as a world threat given the “talent” in Australian rugby, the new Wallabies coach said a lot of other attributes could get the Wallabies to where it needed to go.

“Talent to me is an untapped potential, it sits in a potential sort of bracket,” Schmidt said. “Talent can be quite fickle as well.

“What we need to be able to demonstrate is that we can be really consistent.

“A lot of the things that you do in rugby, don’t take a whole lot of talent. They take a whole lot of effort, they take a little bit of intelligence and IP in the game, and then the talent tends to be the icing on the cake and we’ve just got to make sure that we bake the cake in the best possible manner.

“So if you’re delivering at the cleanout, you’ve just got to be really good and functional in your biomechanics deliver that, you’ve got to see it early and deliver it in a manner that’s going to allow us the fastball for the talent to get the time and space to breathe and play.

“There’s a lot of building blocks that go into that and, yes, I’m seeing some of those in the Super Rugby from the Australian teams, and I know that they’re working on some of those things in discussions I’ve had with some of the coaches.”

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Joe Schmidt says there’s been some pleasing results in Super Rugby. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

As for the contentious subject around player eligibility, Schmidt reiterated his desire to pick from within however left the door ajar by saying he was keeping an eye on some players from overseas.

“It’s a difficult one to answer at the moment,” Schmidt said.

“What I would say is that players who are playing in Australia will be a priority for us. If that is supplemented by a few players playing overseas, then that may well be the case.

“I haven’t even asked around clarity at this stage.

“Yes, I am tracking the players who are playing overseas, particularly the ones who were at the World Cup, but my fullest focus is on the guys who are playing week to week in the Super teams here in Australia.”

One person who thinks the Wallabies should have a different representation is O’Connor, who called on Schmidt to lean heavily on the Reds after their strong start to the season that has seen them win three of their opening four matches.

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“The biggest thing this year is you can see we’re playing together, as a team,” the veteran Wallabies utility back said.

“We’ve built on our base game and the little moments, we’re winning. Everyone’s on the same page.

“There’s alot of guys in our pack that’ll be putting their hands up; I would like to see a Reds-heavy Wallaby team.

“Continue to play consistently and showcase what our unique players can do, it’ll make a great case for us.”

The 33-year-old, who started at fly-half against the Lions when they last visited in 2013, also called on Schmidt to pick and stick.

“It’ll be important to select a team and build combinations that can set us apart from them,” he said.

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“Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales are all formidable Test nations but when we come together we’ve a team strong enough to beat them.

“We’re seeing an improvement at Super level and that’s where our mindset is at the moment.”

Few coaches know Northern Hemisphere rugby better than Schmidt, who led Ireland to several grand slam Six Nation crowns during his relatively successful tenure in the Emerald Isle.

Schmidt will get a strong idea of where the Wallabies sit ahead of next year’s Lions tour, with his side to embark on an end of season grand slam tour later this season.

The 58-year-old, who is only signed on to coach the Wallabies until the Lions tour, said success in the showpiece event could be the springboard he needs to keep coaching through to the home 2027 World Cup.

“We’re a bit of an aging staff with myself and [assistant coach] Laurie [Fisher],” he said. “We’re going to need something to keep us going.

“One of the things that I love about rugby is it does make you feel a little bit youthful because you’re working with young men who are incredibly motivated, so you get kind of dragged along with that energy that they bring. I don’t have any doubts about the energy that Laurie and I will bring in.

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“You’ll see over the next week or two that we will be fleshing that stuff out by another one or two people in the coaching area and then we’ll build the rest of the backroom staff around the strength and conditioning, the medical side of it, the nutritional side of it, but we won’t have a massive staff. It’ll be a fairly small select group, hopefully.”

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