After a magnificent, blood-and-guts autumn international battle between Ireland and Australia at Lansdowne Road, news began to emerge that Joe Schmidt, the Ireland manager, had endured an entire day of torture in order to see the match. Suffering from acute appendicitis, Schmidt gritted his teeth and got on with things, explaining his absence from the team-talk with the cover story that he had some sort of infectious bug he didn’t want to pass on.
The first reaction of the whole country, including me, was What a man.
But later, as I thought about this, it dawned on me that what Joe Schmidt did was utterly irresponsible, not only risking his own life but, even worse, tapping into the same old macho mindset that for years returned concussed players to the game when they should have been under medical observation for head injuries.
Instead of saying What a man, maybe we should have been saying with some annoyance, Typical man.
If Joe Schmidt’s appendix had burst while he was watching the game, he could easily have died.
Presumably, the IRFU and the management of Lansdowne Road knew about the medical situation, so what did they do about it? Did they defer to Schmidt’s dogged refusal to leave his seat until the final whistle? If so, they are guilty of culpable weakness, having colluded in a highly irresponsible and potentially fatal act involving one of their employees.
I don’t agree with everything the Health and Safety Authority does. Sometimes they can be too officious, too overbearing and rather robotic, but I hope they investigate this incident because its ramifications go far beyond the consequences for one man.
In the last decade, rugby has gained popularity in an unprecedented way due to the success of the provinces in European competition and the increasingly effective international squad who now expect to go out and win the Grand Slam and who come home slightly disappointed if all they win is the Six Nations.
This is a good thing. It has produced marvellous role models for the kids in the dignified, respectful, self-effacing superstars we produced, people like Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll. Who didn’t admire Peter Stringer at the height of his Jack-Russell-like cheekiness? Everyone in Ireland admires wonderful tacticians like Joe Schmidt.
But if kids look up to the heroes, there’s a corresponding responsibility not to send out bad messages, and what worse message could be sent out than the manager of a world-class team stoically ignoring the warnings his body is giving him, disregarding his health for the sake of a football game?
At a time when men are being encouraged to look after their health, these aren’t the attitudes we need to be fostering.
Admirable guy that Joe Schmidt is, I think he got this one badly wrong.