Ireland head coach Andy Farrell had planned to catch up for a coffee with his former boss Joe Schmidt this week, but the date may be off after Schmidt was rushed into the All Blacks' camp early due to their Covid crisis.
Schmidt, who left the Ireland head coaching role after the 2019 World Cup, wasn’t planning on joining the All Blacks until after this tour, but answered the call once Ian Foster, John Plumtree and Scott McLeod were all forced into isolation for a week.
Asked about coming up against Schmidt this week, Farrell said: “I don’t know if it’s head to head – I’m sure Fozzie will be around somewhere. I think Joe is just helping out and being an extra pair of hands. I’m sure he’s just fitting into the system, etc. We’re meeting him for a coffee on Thursday – I don’t know if that’s out of the question now or not, we’ll soon see.”
Schmidt, All Blacks tracksuit and all, was on the ground with the team as they trained at Auckland club Grammar Tec on Tuesday and is scheduled to assist again on Thursday, so the coffee may have to wait.
But Farrell was pragmatic about what influence Schmidt would have, saying: “What can he bring? He’s coming into a system that he probably doesn’t know as well. It’s not his system is it? I’m sure he’s just bringing his one-to-one expertise and giving advice to the coaches, etc.”
Farrell's renowned north of England bluntness was again to the fore when asked about the All Blacks' Covid disruptions – backs David Havili, Jack Goodhue and Will Jordan have also all tested positive – saying: “It is what it is. We’re in the same boat – we have one case [Australian-born Mack Hansen] and we could have more cases by the end of the week, we don’t know.”
Farrell spoke after announcing his team to play the New Zealand Māori in Hamilton on Wednesday night, with Bundee Aki, a former Chiefs midfielder, given the honour of leading the Irish on his former home ground.
“It’s a huge privilege and an honour – a very proud moment for myself and my family,” Aki said. “A kid from South Auckland – not many opportunities come your way. I’m privileged to be here, to be a part of this team and lead the boys out.”
Aki, who has played 37 tests for Ireland, admitted he has little captaincy experience and thought Farrell was joking when the team was announced.
Of facing the haka, he said: “Obviously, it’s huge facing the haka and there’s a lot of heritage behind that. I’ll just embrace it, accept the challenge, and go from there.”
Farrell added the match against the Māori was, “huge, it’s everything to the players that are taking the field on Wednesday. It’s the biggest game of their lives”.
There is experience on the bench through halfback Conor Murray and front rower Cian Healy, but Farrell has named a relatively inexperienced pack for the match ahead of Saturday’s first Test against the All Blacks at Eden Park.
Ireland team to play the Māori All Blacks at FMG Stadium Waikato on Wednesday, 7.05pm:
15. Jimmy O’Brien
14. Jordan Larmour
13. James Hume
12. Bundee Aki ©
11. Keith Earls
10. Ciaran Frawley
9. Craig Casey
8. Gavin Coombes
7. Nick Timoney
6. Cian Prendergast
5. Kieran Treadwell
4. Joe McCarthy
3. Tom O’Toole
2. Dave Heffernan
1. Jeremy Loughman
16. Niall Scannell
17. Cian Healy
18. Finlay Bealham
19. Ryan Baird
20. Jack Conan
21. Conor Murray
22. Joey Carbery
23. Michael Lowry