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Ireland's future success is not dependant on Joe Schmidt carrying on as head coach beyond the 2019 World Cup in Japan, IRFU chief executive Philip Browne has said.
Schmidt has guided Ireland to three Six Nations titles, including the 2018 Grand Slam, as well as a famous victory over the All Blacks and a series win in Australia since taking over as head coach in 2013.
His success with Ireland, and before that Leinster, has not gone unnoticed and the New Zealander has been linked with a return home to take up a coaching role with the All Blacks.
He is contracted to the IRFU until after the World Cup in Japan but he is expected to make a decision on his future before the end of the year and Browne is confident the national team will cope should Schmidt decide against signing a new contract.
"He's done a fantastic job and it's not just about Joe, it's about the people he has gathered around him, as a collective - both in terms of the team management and their interaction with the high performance department and their interaction with the provinces, and the quality of coaching and personnel that are now in the provinces," Browne is quoted as saying in the Irish Independent.
"It is a collective and at times people, certainly outside of Irish rugby, don't understand that and Joe is an important part of that collective and has done a fantastic job.
"At the end of the day, David (Nucifora, IRFU performance director) is having conversations with Joe until he makes up his mind and we will be thinking about it once the November internationals are under the belt.
"My father, in his wisdom, used to say graveyards are full of people who thought they were indispensable.
"The reality is the plan can't be built around one person, it has to be built around systems, processes and structures."
Nucifora added: "A lot of the success is down to Joe, he's driven a lot of really good things in the Irish game and not just with the national team.
"Part of his strength is that he's built a team that can carry those things on, that can carry them forward.
"And regardless of whether Joe chooses to stay or go, he'd be the first one to tell you that he's confident that it is sustainable.
"We've built something that is sustainable and we will be continuing to focus on that."
Browne and Nucifora were speaking at the launch of the IRFU's strategic plan for 2018 to 2023, which targets reaching the World Cup semi-finals or better in 2019 and 2023 as well as winning at least two more Six Nations titles.
Ireland have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup and Browne believes the national team can have a greater say in the tournament.
“We need to try and move beyond the quarter-finals. I recall in 2007, we all sat around the table and we all thought it was going to be our year and it didn’t happen, for one reason or another," he explained.
“Hopefully, over the last 10, 11 years we have managed to address some of the problems that arose during that competition. We’re number two in the world so we have to have aspirations to get that far.
“The notion that we put it up on a piece of paper and we get to the semi-final and say ‘great, job done, let’s go off and have a party’, that’s kind of naïve."
Ireland return to Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday, 3 November to take on Italy in the first of their November internationals, live on eir sport 2 [kick-off 8pm]. Subscribe here
Image: Getty Images/Shaun Botterill