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By Shane Williams
Good to see Cardiff Blues finally filling their head coach position for next season, but the appointment of John Mulvihill raises serious questions about where all the Welsh coaches have gone?
If the Ospreys are successful in their quest to bring in Springbok Robbie Fleck, below, to replace Steve Tandy for next season then there won’t be one Welsh coach in charge of the four regions.
‘What’s wrong with that?’ I hear you ask. I’d be the first to agree that each team has to have the best possible coach, not merely a Welshman, but when you trawl the world for a new man and come up with someone who has never coached in the Northern Hemisphere, hasn’t been a head coach and is barely known outside his own part of the world there are some serious questions to be asked.
Wasn’t it the Blues who thought they had picked the right man from New Zealand in Mark Hammett a few years ago after they let Phil Davies go? He didn’t last long. He knew his stuff, but he didn’t have a clue about what he was coming in to – tactically, culturally or financially.
In the far more mature professional sport of football, getting the sack is an occupational hazard that barely scars your CV. In rugby, lose your job once and you are deemed a failure who many see as unemployable at the top level ever again.
Having gone to the ends of the earth to uncover John Mulvihill, why didn’t the Blues, in conjunction with Geraint John at the WRU, take another look at some of the coaches on their own doorstep. Nigel Davies, Phil Davies, Justin Burnell, Lynn Howells, Lyn Jones, Sean Holley, Steve Tandy, Dale McIntosh and Paul Turner have all been in charge at Welsh regions in the past. Would any of them have been a worse punt that Mulvihill?
Could they not have been a bit more creative. Shaun Edwards was given the opportunity to work with the Blues as defence coach. Could Wales not have afforded to give Robin McBryde the chance to test himself as a head coach in conjunction with his international duties. After all, next year he will more than likely be looking for a job when Warren Gatland and Rob Howley leave the international stage.
I’m sure the Blues would have tried to entice Jon Humphries back from Scotland, where he has gained international experience with the national team and is currently forwards coach at Glasgow Warriors, but therein lies the rub.
If you look dispassionately at the Blues’ search for a new head coach you’d have to say it has been viewed as a job nobody really wanted.
Gone are the days when any coach would jump at the chance of taking charge of a team at the Arms Park. If you believe the rumours, not even £300,000 pa, and a big bonus scheme, could attract Jim Mallinder to get off his sofa following the sack at Northampton Saints to take over at the Blues.
The playing budget and current personnel couldn’t convince him to take on the Blues.
Welsh coaching used to be the envy of the world. Everyone wanted to have a Welshman in charge of their team. Now they are a rare species at the top end of the game.
You’ve got Phil Davies in charge of Namibia, Gareth Baber looking after the Fijian Sevens side, Leigh Jones heading up the coach education programme in Hong Kong with Paul John and Jevon Groves looking after their Sevens team.
Stephen Jones and Byron Hayward are doing fantastic work at the Scarlets, Darren Edwards coaches the backs at Bath, Mefin Davies looks after the forwards at Worcester and Dwayne Peel is the attack coach at Ulster. Mark Jones continues to do a good job at RGC 1404 having had experience with both the Scarlets and Wales and, of course, we have Howley, McBryde and Neil Jenkins backing up Gatland with Wales.
I was lucky to be coached by a number of top quality Welsh coaches during my career at both club and national level. In addition, I was lucky to play under the Kiwi trio of Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Warren Gatland. Each and every one of them had their strengths and weaknesses, but I learned something from them all.
There will be a change at the top in Wales next year after the World Cup and a new head coach will be imported to take over from Warren Gatland. It has already been a decade since a Welshman was in charge of the national team. Will there be another one in the future? Not unless the coaching pathway is cleared to give home-bred coaches a chance to show what they can do.
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