Treble World Rugby Awards caps satisfying year for head coach Joe Schmidt
The Irish Rugby Football Union will most likely confirm sometime on Monday that Joe Schmidt will leave his head coach role of the Ireland National team at the conclusion of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The signs are that the affable New Zealander who has taken Irish rugby to new heights over the past five and a half years will opt to return home after a decade coaching rugby in Europe.
The former Clermont and Leinster coach took over as Irish head coach in 2013 and lifted them from number eight in the World Rankings to number two.
The past international season has been monumental for the men in green - reflected in Schmidt being named World Rugby coach of the year on Sunday night as well as outhalf Johnny Sexton, player of the year and Ireland, team of the year.
A Grand Slam Six Nations Championship, a Test series success in Australia topped off with a first ever home win over world number one side, New Zealand in Dublin.
The latter came as part of a successful November Test series which saw Ireland complete the clean sweep with wins also over Italy, Argentina and most recently the USA on Saturday.
There have been previous successes - a first ever win over New Zealand in 2016 in Chicago, a maiden victory the Springboks on South African soil and two other Six Nations Championships.
However, 2018 will go down as being the most satisfying year of all for Schmidt.
“It would be pretty hard to top 2018, really,” said Schmidt.
“There’s been some monumental wins, you know, that win in Paris (against France at the start of the Six Nations). if you go back to where the calendar year started, and you don’t get too much more special end-games than that. I think it got people enormously excited including our squad.
“Then once you know you’ve done that, you don’t want to waste that.
“You want to make sure that you capitalise on the back of that and I was delighted with the way that the team did.
“We got a few bonus-point wins that allowed us to be champions by the time the fourth round was over and we went and chased what we needed to do to get the Grand Slam (against England at Twickenham).
“So that was special.
Schmidt added: “Australia was special because we put ourselves behind the 8-ball being one down in the series and came back and won a couple of cliffhangers but both of them were in full stadia that was something that you hadn’t seen too often in Australia, even when they’re playing the All Blacks.
“So we’ve been able to get quite excited about who we’re playing in front of and no more so than when we play here.
“Three sold-out stadiums and three incredibly encouraging crowds but we were blown away by last week.
“That’s as special as I’ve heard it in my five-and-a-half year stint with the team,” he added.