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By Jeremy Guscott
John Kingston’s imminent departure from Harlequins will leave the count at just three Englishmen in charge of Premiership teams. There’s Ulsterman Mark McCall in control at Saracens as well, but following Nick Kennedy’s departure from London Irish the league is looking a bit top heavy on foreign bosses.
With professionalism comes a bigger economic reason to win and stay in the Premiership and that in itself demands you get the best available coaches and directors of rugby that you can. That in turn means you have to find someone with a proven track record. And gradually over the last 20 years the search has become more global.
When the game first went professional the coaches already there were all pretty much British. Bit by bit, because of results over the period with New Zealand being the best national side and their provincial sides playing the way they do, it was felt that the Southern Hemisphere guys were much better than what was here.
A key difference between the two eras is that in the amateur days there was no succession planning. Personally, I’m not a great believer in succession planning – it’s not so bad if you’re going well and have a coach like Joe Schmidt, who seems to have had success wherever he’s gone – but who stays long enough to oversee a succession plan and bring someone along?
You have to keep on winning or you’re sacked so you have to look after yourself first before thinking about who follows you. Look how long Warren Gatland has been on the international scene and it’s not as if Wales have a ready-made replacement.
There’s been no talk of succession planning, instead the WRU say they are on a global hunt for the best man.
It’s similar in club rugby and it doesn’t surprise me because as a coach on a three-season time scale, it’s bloody hard, impossible even. The first season you’ve inherited a team, you’ve then got to do recruitment for the second year and by the third you’ve got to be winning the first six to eight games or you’re gone, as that’s the stage your agent starts negotiating a new deal.
It’s disappointing that we have lost so many Englishmen from the top jobs but it’s good to see the ones who are still in there doing well.
Dean Richards, Steve Diamond and Rob Baxter are flying the flag and it’s not as if those coming in from overseas are doing anything spectacular. Todd Blackadder came to Bath on the strength of being an All Black and having coached Crusaders – although he didn’t win anything with them. In fact, Bath have tried out a few coaches in recent years and it still doesn’t seem like a perfect fit.
Jim Mallinder’s stock was a lot higher after winning the league and getting to the Champions Cup final with Saints but then he got sacked.
It’s hard to qualify what is a success as all the teams have different expectations – qualifying for Europe year in year out is decent for one team, whereas another will want to be in the final or just avoid relegation.
Where are these coaches going to come from unless the RFU offer incentives, as with the England Qualified Player payments, to make sure each club has some home grown coaching talent in the pipeline?
Rob Baxter at Exeter is unique having come through the playing system from the local minis to the first team and now is director of rugby. The likelihood of it happening again becomes less and less.
In football we see short-term manging positions and it’s going to come to rugby because of the expectation and demands for success.
People talk about the Championship being a good breeding ground but I’m not sure we are going to get many top class coaches coming out of there. And the reach of the Premiership is so wide they can look at wherever the talent pool is.
Saracens men Andy Farrell, Steve Borthwick, Pat Sanderson and Paul Gustard have all progressed quickly in the coaching ranks. It can be done if the guy has real talent. There are a number of younger men moving through the ranks, with Dave Walder impressing at Newcastle under Dean Richards, and it’s up to them to prove they are good enough for the top jobs.
You look at the Premiership at the moment and you can see where coaching might come from. Owen Farrell and George Ford will likely go into coaching and their clubs will look to tie them into player/coach roles towards the end of their playing days. Gareth Steenson’s another at Exeter.
Richards went straight into leading Leicester after his playing days and did a magnificent job. And he’s defied expectations at Newcastle this season.
Quins tried something similar with Nick Easter and Nick Evans both moving straight into coaching. Time will tell if they are as good at it as they were playing.
It would be a bold move by Quins to put the two Nicks in as head coach or director of rugby with so little coaching experience, but if they see a Dean Richards in Easter then good luck to them.
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