LONDON (Reuters) - Ireland’s Joe Schmidt will be a strong contender to replace fellow New Zealander Steve Hansen when the All Blacks coach steps down, according to former captain Richie McCaw.
Schmidt has led Ireland for five years and his contract with the Six Nations champions ends after the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, with the 53-year-old saying he would make a decision on his future at the end of this month’s internationals in Europe.
Hansen is also contracted through until the Rugby World Cup, where his side will seek an unprecedented third successive title and fourth overall, with speculation growing in New Zealand as to who might replace him — if he does step down.
“There’s no doubt that people admire what Joe has done with the Irish team,” McCaw, who won a world record 148 test caps and led the All Blacks to two World Cup titles, told an AIG event in London, with his comments carried widely by New Zealand media.
“He’s been away for a while, but there’s no doubt amongst the people who understand rugby that he has a very good way of looking at the game.
“Everybody sits there hoping one day he’ll come back and put himself back in the mix in New Zealand, and we get the benefit of all the experience he’s had at an international level and obviously quite a few years successfully at club level as well.”
The All Blacks face Eddie Jones’s England at Twickenham on Saturday and then play Ireland in Dublin next week, with all three teams using the matches as an opportunity to gauge themselves ahead of next year’s global showpiece.
Schmidt has been hailed for developing Ireland during his tenure and they are currently the second-ranked side in the world after winning three Six Nations titles under him, even clinching a Grand Slam earlier this year.
He has been working in Europe since 2007, initially as an assistant to fellow New Zealander Vern Cotter at Clermont, before he became head coach at Leinster in 2010 and then took over the Ireland national side three years later.
Given his success, McCaw said it would be difficult for the Ireland Rugby Football Union to let him go, but Schmidt would also face some healthy challenges from other coaches who might be keen to succeed Hansen, with Wales’ Warren Gatland also returning home to New Zealand after the World Cup.
“From Ireland’s point of view, you want to try and lock him (Schmidt) in and from New Zealand’s point of view, if Steve doesn’t continue, they’re going to want all the options on the table,” McCaw added.
“It will be hard for Joe, because he wants to concentrate on doing a good job for the next 12 months, but if he wants to put his name in the hat, it will be pretty good to have a coach like that looking around.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O'Brien