SEAN Long has revealed how he could have ended up in Twickenham 18 months before his appointment with Harlequins – but over the road with England.
The Rugby League legend was interviewed for the England attack coach job following the team’s worst-ever Six Nations finish in 2018.
While Aussie Scott Wisemantel was ultimately hired, initially as a consultant for the summer tour to South Africa, Long had done his chances of a future career in Rugby Union coaching no harm at all.
Long leaves St Helens immediately and will join up with Harlequins under head of rugby Paul Gustard on July 8 when pre-season starts.
“I didn’t actually meet Gussy (Gustard, right), who was England’s defence coach at the time, but I must have made a decent enough impression on Eddie Jones and I think the connection between the two of them may have worked in my favour,” Long told The Rugby Paper.
Long, 42, had been linked with other Premiership clubs, notably Gloucester, where Danny Cipriani is a big admirer. But he has opted to join Harlequins as an assistant coach.
“I had a few offers from Premiership sides, but I chose Quins after I met with Gussy and heard about his plans for the future and the way he wants to play.
“He is hard-working and hungry, like myself, and he has put a lot of faith in me coming down there and helping with the attack and stuff like that.
“This organisation has some unbelievable players and once I had spoken to him it was a done deal.
“Ultimately, Harlequins are a massive club and I feel that with the progression they made last year, going from tenth to fifth, they are ready to take the next step forward.
“It was a big decision, and one I’d thought about long and hard for a while, but I think I’ve chosen the right club.”
Long won just about everything there was to win as an Rugby League player, including two Lance Todd Trophies, awarded to the man-of-the-match in the Challenge Cup Final, and over the last few years had been carving out a reputation for himself as one of Super League’s brightest young coaches.
Having twice turned down moves to professional Rugby Union as a player, Long said a switch of codes in a coaching capacity has been on the cards for a while.
“I wanted a new challenge and I had two options really – to be a head coach in Rugby League or coach in Rugby Union.
“I had a taste of Rugby Union a few years back at ‘Hoppers (Preston Grasshoppers) and loved every minute of it and I also had the honour of playing for the Barbarians (in 2012).
“A couple of years before the 2003 World Cup I met Clive Woodward at Manchester airport to talk about switching codes and Sale offered me a deal in 2006 but neither worked out.
“To now get an opportunity at Quins is amazing. I’ve been trying to get into Rugby Union for a couple of years and I can’t wait to get started.”
Traditionally Rugby League coaches have crossed over and focused on defence but with Paul Deacon making a favourable impression at Sale Sharks and now Long on the move, the trend is shifting towards attack.
“I had a chat with Deacs about six months ago, and I’ve been back in touch with him and Mike Forshaw. He has said that it is different to League, you can’t just come in and play the same because of the extra numbers (on the pitch). You may get past one defender and then another comes around the corner.
“So it is a lot different in some ways, but the fundamentals are the same – you’ve got to run square, you’ve got to fix the defence and you’ve got to have good skill and execute.
“Deacs has done a great job there (with Sale) and that has probably helped in my favour because a lot of teams are looking at how they play and the influence of League,” he continued.
“I know from speaking to the Union boys with England, people like George Ford, they want a League influence in attack.
“In the past in Union, it used to be all flat and wide and no tiers in attack. It worked back in the day because defences were passive but, now, they’re really aggressive so you kind of need a tier of attack to give you a lead option, to hold the aggressive defence. It’s the same in League and hopefully I can bring that finer detail across. One thing we do really well at Saints is attack.”
Long predicts he may soon be followed by other Super League coaches in crossing over to the 15-man game, which was once derided as ‘kick and clap’ but is now providing job opportunities the northern code cannot match.
“I think there will be some more flicking over. No disrespect, but there’s probably only three really good attack coaches in Super League, who know what they are on about, and I do worry a bit (for League) that they will probably move over at some point. They are talking to Union clubs at the moment.”
From the moment Long joined Saints in 1997, it was clear he was destined to be a winner and his arrival at the Twickenham Stoop could be the missing piece in the jigsaw that turns Quins from the ‘nearly men’ of last season into serious challengers.
“Winning is a culture, and once you start, it becomes a habit, especially if you can instil that mentality among the entire squad,” he said.
“You also have to replicate that approach on the training park, in terms of the intensity and the standard of execution that you set yourself, then you’ll start seeing those results on the pitch.
“I want to win at anything I do, even a game of snakes and ladders.”
One thing Long might not be prepared for are south-west London property prices.
“I had a chat with Danny Care the other day and he’s a really nice lad who’s given me tips on nice areas to live. I’ll be going down with my partner this weekend to look at some places but one thing’s for sure, you get a lot more for your money up north!
“As long as I’ve got some greenery around me so I can take the dog for a walk and relax, I’ll be happy.”
JON NEWCOMBE / Photo: Getty Images
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