SIX NATIONS: The Grudge match
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The tense relationship between Ireland coach Joe Schmidt and Wales counterpart Warren Gatland adds further spice to Saturday’s clash in Cardiff in what will be the last time both face each other in the tournament.
They may both be New Zealanders, who played alongside one another on one occasion, but while Gatland socialises with another coach also known for his witticisms, Eddie Jones, he and Schmidt are more likely to trade barbs than anecdotes.
This all adds more fuel to the fire – in a match where the Irish could deny the Welsh the Grand Slam and keep alive hopes of the title – of what is seen to be more of a grudge match for the Irish than the games with England despite the latter being the former colonial power.
Gatland, too, is always fired up by confrontations with the Irish, largely due to the fact he remains bruised by the manner in which he was forced out of the national coaching job after a three-year tenure in 2001.
Former Ireland wing Shane Horgan, who won the first of his 65 caps when Gatland was coach of Ireland, is of that opinion as he told AFP last year.
“There is a bit of history [Gatland and Ireland] and if there is a grudge match in the Six Nations then this is it,” Horgan told AFP.
“This is definitely the saltiest match of the Six Nations
Schmidt, whose playing career did not reach the heights of Gatland’s despite his misfortune to be second-choice hooker when Sean Fitzpatrick was the All Blacks’ number one, has been irked by the Wales handler’s remarks over Ireland’s style.
Gatland’s claim in 2015 that Ireland did not “play a lot of rugby” rankled Schmidt along with other assertions they “kicked the leather out of the ball”.
The former school teacher must have been a nightmare for pupils at the school he taught at in recalling misdemeanours they had committed because he bided his time and three years on he hit back at Gatland.
Indeed it was one of the rare occasions the normally equable temperament of Schmidt’s has evaporated, in public at least, at a press conference two days before the teams met in Dublin last year.
“Sometimes it is frustrating because one opposition coach has tried to create that story and people have picked it up without doing their own analysis,” said Schmidt ahead of the home game with Wales last year.
“I am not sure why he [Gatland] would get more credence than [the Argentina coach at the time] Daniel Hourcade who was really impressed or by [the then South Africa coach] Allister Coetzee who was really impressed.”
Schmidt got the better of Gatland in that match as the Irish went on to the Grand Slam and their third title in his reign.
“Credit to Joe and the team and the attacking stuff. They are definitely going in the right direction,” said a deadpan Gatland, with tongue in cheek after the game.
Schmidt for his part has been perceived to not give full credit to Gatland for his achievements – a win on Saturday would be the former hooker’s third Grand Slam since he assumed the reins in 2007 – and has also shown himself not to be averse to game playing.
Gatland recounted in his book in 2017 how he informed Schmidt he would be dropping by the Ireland camp to see him – about being a coach on the prospective Lions tour to New Zealand that year, an offer he declined – and sit in on a team meeting.
“Funnily enough, I’d heard from someone that the team meeting which they’d normally have on a Tuesday morning had been moved to the night before!” wrote Gatland.