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Marlborough Express - 2021-11-26

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Schmidt’s big helping hand

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overnight, and it was Schmidt who was being credited with having the quiet but determined diplomatic nous to influence enough council members to vote Yes. That influence was critical. Stuff understands the Yes vote came down to as little as one vote. Schmidt being Schmidt, much of his work has happened in the background. The Kiwi built a reputation as one of the greatest coaches in the world during his time in Ireland, and the Blues recently announced his arrival as a ‘‘support coach’’ with some pride. Yet, Schmidt has shunned the limelight for his whole career. Indeed, those seeking to express their gratitude for his efforts yesterday didn’t want to bring him any extra attention. However, it has become increasingly clear that Schmidt’s work for World Rugby this year, as its director of rugby and high Performance, included significant work in support of Pasifika rugby. Moana Pasifika coach Aaron Mauger, for example, mentioned Schmidt as a key figure he listened to before taking on the role at the new Super Rugby franchise. His legacy contribution, however, may be the change to the eligibility rules. Manu Samoa coach Seilala Mapusua has already expressed his delight and disbelief, while raising the possibility of wooing Josh Ioane to play for Manu Samoa at the Rugby World Cup. For Tonga, the implications are also significant, particularly as players such as Charles Piutau, Vaea Fifita and Israel Folau will be free to play for the island nation. Perhaps the northern hemisphere unions – who previously resisted the change – were buoyed by a strong showing in the November tests, and felt they were no longer in danger of being surpassed by a rising Manu Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. Whatever the reason, the Yes vote still came as something of a surprise. However, a key part of Schmidt’s pitch was highlighting the importance of making a truly competitive international sport. Was it really being well served if some of the best players in the world – and Piutau is a good example – were not available for the World Cup, despite repeatedly declaring a desire to play for the islands where they were either born or had strong links to? It appears that was a winning message. There are, of course, a countless number of people who are responsible for the Yes vote, and who have spent countless hours lobbying on the subject. But when it came to the crunch, when it came to navigating the vote through the corridors of power at World Rugby level, one line was being repeated yesterday. ‘‘We owe you one, Joe.’’

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