Schmidt hints at local-based policy as he commences Wallabies job

Fri, Mar 1, 2024, 1:45 PM
Nathan Williamson

New Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt has indicated his intentions to select from Australia as he begins life in the new role.

March 1 was Schmidt's official start date, however, the former Irish boss has been travelling across the trans-Tasman to get himself up to speed with the task.

He undertook a nearly six-hour round trip to Auckland to catch up with the five Super Rugby captains whilst venturing to Roma for the Reds-Waratahs trial.

It reflects Schmidt's passion and excitement for the challenge ahead as he caught up with reporters for an early discussion about the state of the side.

His preference towards homegrown talent was clear as the Kiwi-born Schmidt looks to reward Super Rugby performances.

The previous coach Eddie Jones selected four overseas players for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, with Quade Cooper called into camp under Dave Rennie.

However, Schmidt, who has traditionally coached at teams with a local-only selection policy, was leaning towards keeping his squad largely based in Australia

“As much as possible, I think it’s really important to keep the best players in the country if we can, we want to be competitive in Super Rugby," he said.

“My experience in Ireland was we didn’t have a policy of whether we picked homegrown players or players that were away but the only guy I picked was Jonny Sexton and I made sure he’s signed for Leinster before he actually played for Ireland.

“You want to be able to have a player management plan to track players and see them firsthand and connect.

“Will Skelton has been incredibly impressive playing in La Rochelle and I know the coach Ronan O’Gara well so it’s not like I don’t trust them to give me good feedback. There are guys like Marika Koroibete, Samu Kerevi that are really impressive.

“My gut feeling at the moment if it’s 50/50, even maybe 60/40, is to go with the home-based players as much as possible.”

He will look to establish his coaching staff by the end of April before the Test calendar begins against Wales in July, employing a similar policy.

“We’ll be advertising openly but I think favouring the local guys," Schmidt admits.

“I think it’d be great to get the best of the guys who were here involved and at the same time, we want to keep the best of the guys here making a success of Super Rugby because then it’s a breeding ground.

“The windows we get can be pretty tight, particularly the preparatory weeks so the more really good people we have in the Super stuff, the better prepared the players will be.”

With limited time, Schmidt is open to a collaborative effort with the Super Rugby clubs for 2024 only, which has been seen in the past with Dan McKellar serving as forwards coach under Dave Rennie.

“I know what it’s like and it’s very tough. I think what you do is dilute the energy you need to be as good as you can be," he said.

“There might be someone involved with a Super team at the moment and welcome them into the Wallabies environment but then we’re more likely to keep them in the Wallabies environment and progress from there, particularly with the Lions next year where we want to be as prepared as we can be and fresh to be nailed on for that.”

‘Step up and grab it’: Schmidt lays down message to players amid Super Round

Fri, Mar 1, 2024, 2:44 PM
Nathan Williamson

It's a clean slate for Wallabies hopefuls as coach Joe Schmidt begins to craft squads in his head ahead of his first game in charge,

Schmidt is in Melbourne for Super Round where he'll get a great look at his players with three trans-Tasman matches and the Rebels-Force facing off.

Don't miss Super Round 2024 in Melbourne from March 1-3. Get your tickets now!

The Queensland Reds and ACT Brumbies impressed in the opening round but Schmidt understands the importance of consistent showings throughout Super Rugby Pacific.

“There’s some young players that I didn’t really know that well that have done quite well and there’s been some other guys who have probably been a bit patchy. What you learn after way too many years of professional Rugby is that you don’t pull trigger and make assessments quickly," he told reporters on the opening round of matches.

“You’ve got to monitor guys for a while and allow them to get their rhythm. I don’t think there’s too many players who can be really consistent from the get-go go but it’s always a little bit patchy kicking off the year.

“The more you’ve got through those first five/six games, we’ll have a clearer picture so I’ve taken notes and clips from games so far and I just store them and label them under each player.

“The further we get in the season, the more weight they carry because then I’m getting closer to seeing a player that is ready to go.”

Wins and strong performances against the Kiwi sides will go a long way towards impressing.

Sunday's double-header between the Chiefs-Brumbies and Hurricanes-Reds will be key litmus tests whilst the Waratahs can make a major statement with a victory over the Crusaders.

“Inevitably, if you’re going to play and do well against the best it’ll always be an advantage because it means that I can see someone matching up with other Test players," he explained.

“That can definitely happen with Wallabies derbies, and I’ll get to as many of those as I can, and then balance them with some really good games. You’ve got the Crusaders-Waratahs which was an unbelievable game a couple years ago when the Tahs tabled the Crusaders that nobody saw coming.

“I didn’t just give me confidence when slotting a few clips together from games like that but it gives players confidence that they can match up against players that have big Test experience.”

With a bevy of players used in 2023 by Eddie Jones, Scmidht has left the door wide open for any hopeful looking to secure their spot in the side.

“My impression is through a whole different lens in the past so it’s a fresh lens for me, which makes it a fresh opportunity for them and I just love them to step up and grab it," he expressed.

"I’m personally open-ended about captain and I would never make any decision without the discussions with the support staff and some of them will know the character of the player better and it’s the same with a wider playing group.

"It doesn’t mean I won’t speak to Dave or Eddie into how and what they did but I think a fresh start is the best way to get things underway.”

He was undeterred by the prospect of having just two weeks with players if their team made the Final, believing the excitement and energy of the new environment could negate it.

“A new group has that freshness and excitement about it as well so I’m hoping that will carry us into the first Test," he added.

“Maybe we won’t be as cohesive or accurate as we’d like to think we can get to but for our long-term plan, it’s to show progression and while we’re judged on outcome, we’ll be trying to develop the best process we can to maximise the playing ability of the group.

“I’m not sure what that group is so until you do, you don’t know how to match up who’s abilities you’re going to try and make use of but I saw some promising signs last weekend and I hope to see some tonight and over the next two days to, I’d be lying if I hadn’t already, but put together a bit of a team.

“Inevitably, I’ll be putting teams together in my head and after four or five weeks start writing down the depth charts that are loose enough but will give me an idea about what might work.”