ALLEN Clarke loved his time in south west Wales so much he has kept a house in Ystradgynlais despite his acrimonious departure from the Ospreys last year.
Now the Northern Irishman is at the helm of an exciting adventure with US Major League rugby club Dallas Jackals – his new home in Texas, close on 5,000 miles away from the Liberty Stadium.
Clarke hopes to play his part in the growth of American rugby and believes he is a better coach for his experience in Wales. The 52-year-old was officially relieved of his Ospreys duties in December, but had left the region a month earlier in confusing circumstances.
Speaking for the first time about his departure, Clarke told TRP: “My time at the Ospreys obviously didn’t end how I would have liked, but I’ve drawn a line in the sand. In times like that you can choose to be bitter or look to the future with optimism and accept it’s professional sport.
“Everywhere you go in life you learn from your experiences. I’m a better person because of my time at the Ospreys and I believe a better coach. I wish the club well in the future. There are so many people there who I have the utmost respect for.
“Life in general, particularly in professional sport, is a game of snakes and ladders. If you’ve enough substance behind you and you go about your business correctly, then there’s always another ladder to climb. For me the bigger picture has been our time in Wales and I speak for my wife Kerry and my daughter Ariane who is a midwife at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil. We have loved south Wales, in particular Ystradgynlais.
“We’ve made friends here for life and it’s people that make communities. The people of Ystradgynlais have blown us away with how they welcomed and supported us.
“I’m privileged to have worked with some of the best players in the world at the Ospreys such as Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and George North to name a few. They are great players, but more importantly they are great people.
“Considering what they have achieved to date in their careers their humility is their greatest quality. They are also tremendous role models for everybody and in particular for aspiring Ospreys and Wales players of the future.”
The intervening weeks between Clarke leaving the Ospreys and the news being officially confirmed sent what was already a poor season at the Liberty from bad to worse.
Chairman Rob Davies said his departure was a “matter of personal conduct” and not just results, but the Ospreys’ form failed to improve with Clarke gone. They’d won just two PRO14 games all season prior to the season stopping due to coronavirus.
“We are going to keep our house in Ystradgynlais and rent it out. I can see us moving back there to retire and I wouldn’t rule out coaching in Wales again if the opportunity arose,” Clarke said.
“There is real quality coming out of the Ospreys academy. That continuous flow of quality players, particularly from the area, will be the backbone of Ospreys sides of the future.
“These are hugely challenging times for everybody. It was challenging before Covid and it’s even more challenging now. The passion in Welsh rugby is phenomenal. There is a lot of talk about a global season and I think it’s important the PRO14 keeps developing.
“It would be beneficial if the PRO14 didn’t play at the same time as the international sides so we can have our best players on the park more often.”
For now, Welsh rugby’s future is not Clarke’s problem. Growing the game and succeeding in the US is. Dallas were only unveiled as a new MLR side this month and Clarke is busy trying to get his new side up to speed ready for the 2021 campaign.
Former England captain Chris Robshaw became the latest big name player to confirm he will be playing in the MLR with San Diego Legion.
“Discussions began in March and I spoke to the people over there a couple of times. It was a rigorous process both ways,” Clarke said of his new Dallas challenge.
“I like the vision, business model and people behind the club. What was initially pretty daunting turned quickly into an unbelievably exciting opportunity.
“I’m honoured to be their first director of rugby and head coach. I’m a humble and principled person so to have the opportunity to go out and coach in Dallas is a huge honour.
“Dallas is a sporting city with unique sporting brands like Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Cowboys. The main owner is actually the owner of the basketball team Dallas Mavericks.
“There is a real history of sport in the area. The first collegiate draft took place last Saturday. It’s been a huge experience for me dealing with draft processes. If you want to go into the MLR as someone who has finished their university this year you have to apply to the MLR and then there’s a draft process. We went through that process last weekend.
“We’ve recruited four talented young men through the draft and I do see Rugby Union in the USA growing.
“Much of it will come down to how we engage with our community and the brand of rugby we play. They love the big hits over there.
“Three of the guys we recruited all played American Football at college so we are looking at recruiting athletes from other sports. The big challenge for those athletes is adapting to the ball-in-play time in Rugby Union.
“I’m ambitious so who knows where my coaching journey will take me, but for now I’m fully focussed on Dallas.”