Luke Fitzgerald: Communication key to what makes "ruthless" Joe Schmidt the world's best

The former Leinster and Ireland international says that keeping Schmidt is vital for upcoming fixtures against New Zealand

Joe Schmidt, Luke FItzgerald

Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Luke Fitzgerald says that Joe Schmidt's ability to communicate with players and prepare them for games is what makes him one of the world's best head coaches.

Schmidt this week agreed an extension with the IRFU that will see him remain head coach of the international team until 2019.

Speaking on Tuesday at a Sky Sports event ahead of an autumn of rugby coverage which will feature ERCC, Guinness Pro12 and Guinness Series, Fitzgerald explained what preparation is like the week before a game and just how much information is imparted to the team.

"It’s the attention to detail that’s incredible," he told Newstalk.com. "It’s his ability to convey a message to a group that’s simple but still encompasses all the complexities of the game.

"For me that’s what makes him such a special coach. That’s what I found so impressive, just the simple nature of the messages and how they apply to everything. It’s a gift. He’s a really bright guy, and I think the attention to detail is the real difference.

"He’s a breath of fresh air in that set-up. Completely different to the guys that have come before him."

Under Schmidt's stewardship, Ireland have won back-to-back Six Nation campaigns in 2014 and 2015. They also reached the quarter-final of the World Cup after a 100% record in their pool.

In the build-up to crunch games like France in October of last year, Fitzgerald insists that is where Schmidt comes into his own.

"At the start of the week, you’d get a really large body of knowledge from him, and then once you get your head around that, you just want to play the game. That gives players security and confidence heading into the game.

"You compare how intense the start of the week is to when it begins to taper toward the end. It means the guys are very relaxed because you’ve got all the technique locked in. Then, you’re ready to go.

"I think he’s got a ruthless nature as well, which is important. I think that’s important if you want to the team to perform at a really high level. He’s got a smaller player group than almost everyone else - England, Wales and France. Yet he’s still able to compete with them regularly.

"He has that ruthlessness as well in terms of the basics of the game. He understands how important those things are, so he makes sure your technique and skill-set are at a really, really high level."

Fitzgerald also worked with Schmidt while he was head coach with Irish province Leinster, leading them to back-to-back Heineken Cup titles in 2011 an 2012, also claiming on the Pro12 crown in 2013. Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan 

Ireland prepare to take on the All-Blacks over two test matches next month, one of which comes on November 5 in Chicago, while Ireland will have home advantage as they welcome New Zealand to the Aviva Stadium on November 19.

Does Fitzgerald see much weakness in Steve Hansen's side, who recently reclaimed the Rugby Championship from Australia with two rounds of games to play?

"I don’t," he said bluntly. "I think they look really good across the pitch. But maybe there are areas where they look only OK, and those are the areas that they can try to exploit. But it doesn’t look like anybody has been able to do that for quite a while.

"The team has to figure out places where you’ve got a bit of parity, and when you focus on that you feel like you can work a couple of 'ins' into the game.

"When I say an 'in,' I mean that you can get something positive out of the game-plan, and that leads to better results."

Ireland came within a whisker of beating the All-Blacks in 2013, when the reigning World Champions ran in a try in the final minute to claim a narrow victory in one of the all-time great Irish performances against New Zealand.

"The team will know all these things really well about New Zealand. I think it’s going to be a huge challenge."

Sky Sports pundits Gordon D’Arcy and Luke Fitzgerald were promoting a huge autumn of Irish rugby coverage on Sky Sports, where viewers can watch the ERCC, Guinness Pro12 and Guinness Series all in one place. Customers can upgrade to Sky Sports now for just €25 a month for 6 months by searching ‘Sky Sports Offer.’
 

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan