RTÉ rugby analyst Tony Ward believes that it is ‘imperative’ that the IRFU retain the services of head coach Joe Schmidt.

Schmidt's current contract with Ireland expires in the summer of 2017 and he has revealed that he will not make a decision on his long-term future after Ireland's June tour to South Africa.

Ireland will be keen to keep Schmidt at the helm after the 50-year-old has overseen two Six Nations victories in three years.

Schmidt could yet seek a Super Rugby coaching role in his native New Zealand and start a lengthy quest to coach the All Blacks, if he chooses not to extend his current Ireland deal, however.

Ward feels that the IRFU must pull out all the stops to keep their head coach, a man who he calls, “the most complete coach” Ireland have ever had.

"Like most people I’m a huge fan of Joe," he said.

"Naturally I don’t always agree with every decision he makes and I think in this Six Nations the obvious one would have been trying Jared Payne at fullback in the Italian game.

"But in general I think he’s the most complete coach we’ve had. You could argue that there’s a touch of a headmaster in him, I think that’s very important.

"It’s absolutely imperative that we hang onto him."

"I think he’s a brilliant communicator, he gives the lads a real incentive when they come together in the squad that they’re in with a shout of being involved in any matchday 23.

"It’s absolutely imperative that we hang onto him. Obviously it would depend on his own domestic situation as well, but we need him going forward badly."

Despite his insistence that the IRFU must do everything within their power to keep Schmidt, Ward still sees areas in which the head coach can improve.

The former Ireland international believes that Schmidt's side must improve their attacking game and take a more expansive approach but admits that he was, for the most part, encouraged by what he saw at the Six Nations.

"Post World Cup and pre-Six Nations I must admit to being pessimistic about our chances, not least because of the number of injuries at centre," he said. "But also, we we’re shown at the World Cup by the Southern Hemisphere sides how to play the game and still win.

"In the Six Nations itself, it was hugely encouraging in the opening game the way we played against Wales, which I didn’t expect.

"France was as dour this year as it was last year, England promising with new caps playing the game. Italy was a farce, I wouldn’t even consider it, but then against Scotland last week I thought there were green shoots.

"We changed ever so slightly that point of attack. We were attacking inside, outside and there were just little hints that we could develop our game.

Ward did warn, however, that Schmidt may be hamstrung slightly by the options available to him.

"What we don’t have relative to the top sides is a real cutting edge. I’m talking about the blinding pace and the ability to step down the outside channel.

"If you were to ask me the area where we should most address, it would be in the back three positions, particularly wide out on the flanks."