Coaches in the firing line

2007-10-04 10:36

JJ Harmse

One of the best jobs to have at the moment seems to be that of a professional rugby coach.

I know this might sound strange while the Rugby World Cup has just claimed the careers of a number of national coaches, but a successful one could really be like a kid in a candy store.

Almost all of the top rugby playing countries are looking to appoint new coaches in the next couple of months.

There is also the small matter of getting someone to coach the British and Irish Lions to tour South Africa in 2009. That appointment is due in the next six months or so and could be an important factor for coaches to consider.

Let's have a look at where coaching vacancies might occur.

At least five of the eight quarter-final contenders might have new coaches this time next year as a failure to get past the last eight would certainly mean the end of the road for the national coaches of South Africa, New Zealand, England, France and Australia.

Failure at this stage of the competition for the super powers of the game can only have one outcome - fire the coach.

Caretaker coach

Jake White's contract is ending and he needs to re-apply for the position anyway. Same with Graham Henry and although he might not re-apply himself, his two assistants, Wayne Smith and Steven Hansen may just fancy the top job themselves.

Brian Ashton was always going to be a caretaker coach, so his departure would not be so traumatic. John Connolly also is due to be replaced and Bernard Laporte is government-bound in France as well.

Argentina's Marcelo Loffreda has already indicated that he is stepping down - to take over at English club Leicester - so Los Pumas will need a new coach.

Ilie Tabua stepped into the Fiji hotspot only after Wayne Pivac resigned eight months before the World Cup, so will be keen to continue in his new role.

Scotland's Frank Hadden is probably the only coach who delivered in terms of his side's recent slide down the world rankings as he guided them into the quarter-final stage.

The coaches mentioned above are the one who achieved some success.

Fighting for legitimacy

What about all the others that failed?

Wales have already acted by firing Gareth Jenkins, Pierre Berbizier has stepped down as Italy coach and Ireland's Eddie O'Sullivan is suddenly fighting for legitimacy as a coach.

Outside of the top 10, the likes of Samoa, USA and Romania are all looking for new directions and coaches.

So, it seems, there could be as many as 10 coaching jobs available in the next couple of months.

The first appointment has been that of former Springbok coach Nick Mallett as the new Italian boss, replacing Berbizier who has been linked to the France role.

It also shows the reality of professional sport. There is now universal acceptance that the level of competency of the coach in question, rather than his nationality, is what rugby unions are after when hiring.

It would therefore not be impossible to see Eddie Jones coaching Wales, Mike Ruddock coaching England... and Jake White coaching the British and Irish Lions on tour to South Africa!

Highly unlikely perhaps, but certainly not impossible.

Sporting landscape

Some of the positions are not as glamorous as others. To coach the Pumas in Argentina, most coaches will have to have some understanding of Spanish and move down there with a pay package much smaller than elsewhere available.

Same with South Africa. Few outsiders would understand the social dynamics of the country and its sporting landscape and foreign applications for the Bok job would be few and far in-between.

France is another that is unlikely to appoint a foreigner, but the other unions have already showed a willingness to appoint the quality of the coach and not where he hails from.

Then there is the little matter of Lions coach. With England and Wales without a candidate and O'Sullivan suddenly looking a bit "old school", Hadden could be the surprised front-runner for the job.

There is no doubt that he has done well with Scotland, considering the problems the professional game faces in his country, but it is also true that Scotland were a missed penalty kick away from being eliminated themselves and are still no real threat to the top six or seven sides in the world.

So does that mean that you appoint a White, Jones or Robbie Deans as a high profiled coach and hope for the best? After all, White would know more about the South Africans than anyone else would, Jones has played the Springboks more than anyone else in the last four years and Deans is the best coach in the world not in charge of a national team.

All of this could change of course. If White wins the World Cup his future would probably see him remain in South Africa. If Henry wins and decides to stay on, Deans might decide to look elsewhere.

The first month of the World Cup has changed the face and order of rugby. It seems that the last three weeks could have a huge influence on the careers of at least 10 coaches as well.

  • Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport.

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