Rugbycanada.ca was able to catch-up with Mike Schmid, a former Canadian International and Director of Rugby at Esher R.F.C., as his club edges ever closer to promotion into the English Championship next season.
10 Questions: With Mike Schmid of Esher
RC: Greetings Mike! For those Canadian rugby supporters who don’t know a lot about you and your involvement with Esher Rugby in England, can you give us a quick summary of how you became involved in elite rugby overseas?
MS: Came out of nowhere really, as I was playing for Canada against Wales, scored two tries and got a phone call two days later from an agent who said there was a club in England that wanted me to play for them. The club was Rotherham. I played, captained and coached them for eight and a half years. I then moved on to take the Director of Rugby position at Esher Rugby Club (London) and have been here for almost five years.
RC: Despite playing some excellent rugby last season, Esher suffered a disappointing relegation last year from the English Championship. This year Esher have been playing in English National Division One. As a leader at an elite rugby club, what was your approach and message heading into this season?
MS: We felt a bit hard done by last year, as the RFU decided to shrink our league, in mid-season, from 16 teams to 12, which meant 5 teams were to be relegated. We finished in 12th place, just one win away from survival. The closest team below us was 30 league points behind us. Thankfully we managed to retain the core of our side, added a few key players and have competed hard to try to right a few wrongs. We want to prove to ourselves that we belonged in the Championship.
RC: Esher is currently in first place and look to be a good bet to win promotion back to the Championship. Having had a chance to observe some of the Championship’s inaugural season, what are your impressions of the competition level?
MS: The way the Championship was forced upon the clubs was disappointing, but I think the concept of a second tier of elite rugby in England was a great idea. The RFU increased their funding to clubs, but for it to be a sustainable, viable product there needs to be further investment. More and more players are making the step from Championship to Premiership these days, so the level of competition has really increased.
The play-offs for promotion and relegation have begun, so it will be interesting to see if the format works or if it will be changed for next season. It looks likely that a team that went in to administration, didn’t win a league match all season and bought 20 new players on the last day of the transfer deadline could possibly survive. That cannot be right!
RC: As you say, a few of the Championship’s teams, like Birmingham and Coventry, have run into financial trouble trying to keep up with the increased obligations of playing in English rugby’s second tier. What kind of lessons can a club like Esher take away from situations like those?
MS: Our club is run by a group of people that have a strong vision of what they want and are very realistic in what it will take to get there. We are currently working on our budgets for next season and this budget will be achievable and sustainable. The professional section of our club is the flagship team, but we also have another 7 men’s team and 600+ kids that play a vital part in Esher R.F.C. The directors will not let the professional team ruin the club. We will be very careful in ensuring we can meet our financial responsibilities while trying to compete as high up the Championship table as we can.
RC: There is now a “British & Irish Cup” competition, which sees teams from the Championship face off against their rivals in second tier divisions across the British Isles. Is this a positive addition to the schedule?
MS: From the people I have spoken to about the new Cup, the feedback has been largely positive. It certainly would be a valuable experience for any player to compete with the best in Britain. Being drawn against the likes of Munster or Cardiff is a great motivator for any player.
RC: With all of your responsibilities overseas, how often are you able to keep an eye on what’s going on with rugby back in Canada? Do you have any thoughts on some the recent developments back home?
MS: I was involved directly as an assistant coach with the Men’s National Side under Rick Suggitt for a couple of years, but unfortunately had to step down due to my commitments over here. I try to follow the Rugby Canada website every week, just so I can keep up with rugby in Canada. I see a few of the Canadian players over here when I can, so I try to get updates as much as possible. Hopefully we will come across a few more of the Canadian lads next season. My club hosts most of the England Women’s internationals, so I have seen the Canadian ladies play more recently.
RC: Canada’s players and its management have looked to leagues like the Championship and Welsh Premiership as platforms to further develop athletes. What kind of experience are these athletes receiving?
MS: I think it really depends on the club the player goes to. The Championship is moving forward year on year, but how the game is played varies greatly between the clubs. It is vital that the player tries to pick a club / coach that plays the style of rugby that will suit the player and that the club environment will allow the player to improve and develop. It will be beneficail for Canadian rugby players to be able to training and play in a full time environment where the level of competition is challenging.
RC: Esher has a Canadian player of its own on the roster. For readers who may not know much about Chuck Baumberg, can you give us a quick run down on his development with the club?
MS: Chuck has been with Esher for 2 seasons. He came over to play rugby for a Northern team and then wanted to move to London for a job opportunity. Someone he played with knew me and put us in touch. Chuck is an extremely hard working individual and has played a fair amount for my team during his time with us. He is playing mainly 12, where he is a distructive force in defence and an aggresive ball carrier who always makes gain line.
RC: The last club to be promoted to the Championship, Birmingham and Sollihul, signed two Canadians to their roster. Is it possible we may see other Canadians joining Esher’s ranks, should promotion become reality next season?
MS: Certainly could be a possibility, in fact I have already spoken to a couple about joining us for next season. Canadian rugby players have a good reputation over here, as we are generally known as tough, hard working and team players. Who wouldn't want Canadians in their squads?
RC: Finally, can you talk a little bit about your long term hopes for Esher as an organization and your long term goals for your own career?
MS: As for Esher, we want to transition the club from a mix of full and part time players to a full time rugby club. To do that we must maintain Championship status and show that we can compete week in and week out. We are also looking at a major ground redevelopment to our facility, so hopefully within the next 2-3 years we will have a tremendous sporting facitily.
As for me, I am working hard to push my career forward. One of the reasons I moved to London was to further my development as a coach. Harlequins, Wasps and London Irish have all been very supportive of myself and Esher over the past 5 seasons and I have been exposed to a lot. We’ll have to see what opportunities arise in the future.
RC: Thanks so much for this Mike!
Best of luck the rest of the way!