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27th Oct 2018

Vern Cotter believes Joe Schmidt may well be the man to take over the All Blacks job

Patrick McCarry

Irish rugby fans are dreading the day Joe Schmidt decides to pack up and return home to New Zealand

The Ireland coach may have got his Irish citizenship and lived in the country for eight years, but most fans have the nagging suspicion he will one day return to New Zealand. Schmidt is contracted to the IRFU up until the end of the 2019 World Cup and is set to inform his employers of his future intentions, beyond the tournament, by the end of 2018.

An interview with Vern Cotter has reminded everyone that Schmidt will definitely be in the mix for the biggest job in world rugby next year. Back in 2012, Cotter was the only man to challenge Steve Hansen for the coveted post of All Blacks head coach. Part of Cotter’s proposed back-room staff was Joe Schmidt.

Six years on, the Montpellier coach is not ruling out a return to New Zealand after the 2019 World Cup. Interestingly, he has not ruled out working under Schmidt – his former assistant – if he sets his sights on taking over from Hansen.

In a wide-ranging New Zealand Herald interview with Liam Napier, Cotter says:

“Joe would be a very good coach with the All Blacks. We just don’t know how things will play out. He’s certainly qualified. Whether or not the cards fall on either side you never know. As for myself, I’ll just go back farming.

“The All Blacks is an intimidating job. To be perfectly honest I don’t even think about it. All I’m trying to do is my best in Montpellier. I don’t think it’s a good idea to start speculating on what ifs outside.”

Cotter is 56 now and will be 58 by the end of the next World Cup.

“I would think we won’t be far from coming home when this winds up [at Montpellier],” he adds. “But, in coaching, you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Schmidt and Cotter started coaching together at Bay of Plenty in 2003 and were Ranfurly Shield winners within a year after their side shocked Auckland. There was a break of three seasons as Cotter went to Crusaders, under Robbie Deans, but he reunited with Schmidt when they headed off to Clermont, in France’s Top 14, in 2006.

They led Clermont to the Top 14 title after losing grand finals in the previous two seasons. Cotter stayed on with the club while Schmidt branched out, leading Leinster and then Ireland to untold glory. The pair clashed twice – splitting it a win apiece – in the Six Nations when Cotter had the Scotland job.

“I was so glad we won the last game against Ireland because hopefully, I don’t have to coach against him again. It’s such bloody hard work because he is such a good coach,” said Cotter on facing Schmidt.

“He’s a good friend, and a great human being. We spend a lot of time together and stay in touch. I think he plans to go back to New Zealand at some stage and I think it’ll be great for New Zealand rugby if he gets involved.”

Most Irish fans would not begrudge Schmidt the move back to his homeland after the World Cup but – as has been noted before – giving him the British & Irish Lions job for the 2021 tour to South Africa may convince him to stay on with the men in green for the foreseeable future.