A tumultuous start to the All Blacks’ 2022 birthed an opportunity for Joe Schmidt, an opportunity that has seen the former Ireland head coach not just thrive but inspire his players to embrace the game in a new way.
A series loss to Schmidt’s former team had the All Blacks – along with New Zealand Rugby and the wider fanbase – looking for answers just three games into the international season and a year out from a World Cup. Schmidt was hastily promoted to backs coach and the All Black attack started to capitalise on the threats it possessed.
For the All Blacks’ most ever capped back, Aaron Smith, Schmidt had reinvigorated his drive for improvement. The new sense of enthusiasm evolved throughout the international calendar and peaked in Wales, where Smith scored two tries in a 55-23 win.
“He was a game changer for me,” Smith said of Schmidt on SENZ Breakfast. “The way he saw the game, he had clips from training, he had clips from games way back, he really just gets rugby and he got my mindset.
“I had a good chat with all three coaches actually, my D (defence) was playing up a little bit in July and so I connected (with them).
“As the year went on I really went and got some help around my game and just got a clear sight of what they saw you know, they were happy but happy’s not good enough.
“I went a bit deeper and (didn’t) assume I knew the answers and that really helped going on to the tour.”
The All Blacks may have gone undefeated on their Northern Tour but periods of dominance from their opposition showed plenty of room for improvement and had Kiwi fans on edge throughout the four-week slate.
“You’re as good as your last game,” Smith continued. “And (I) played okay against England and if I’d maybe played better we may not have (drawn) the game, but that’s the hunger that drives you and it reaffirmed for me something that I knew is that I always want to keep striving to get better and why not use the coaches to do that?”
“I don’t see everything and connecting with Joe, Fozzy and our D-coach (Scott McLeod) again just really helped fuel my game and when I’ve got targets to hit and things to go for and clear work-ons, organic things were happening,” he added.
“Joe wasn’t showing me clips of me running, he was just showing me opportunities, he was showing me what other nines had done and if it’s in your brain that’s what happens, things just react.
“If I hadn’t gone to get that help I don’t think I would’ve been able to find some form again at the end.”