Five miles outside the bustling city of Sydney is Coogee, a beautiful beach area with little, winding streets and cafes with coffee to die for.
The Crusaders repaired there after defeating the Brumbies last Saturday in Canberra, rather than go back home to Christchurch ahead of tonight’s Super Rugby clash with the Rebels in Melbourne.
A place to clear the head.
It doesn’t take long for Irish accents to waft in on the breeze, but the most interesting conversations were with local rugby aficionados who were all keen and curious to learn more about the IRFU player welfare programme. They were too polite to say: How has Ireland got so damn good?
Minding the players and developing the game are two key pillars of the game at home. It’s why there’s scarcely a murmur at the moment about the lack of Irish coaches taking charge in the four provinces.
Dan McFarland, the Englishman by way of Glasgow, has been appointed now in Ulster. It will be interesting who replaces Kiwi Kieran Keane in Connacht. Johann van Graan is progressing in Munster, while Stuart Lancaster is delivering smart coaching to augment Leo Cullen’s management in Leinster.
These are professional set-ups in a professional game, so passports cannot matter. But in passing, it’s worth noting in the broader debate regarding the succession stakes after Joe Schmidt in the national set-up that, really, there aren’t any hard luck cases amongst Irish coaches looking for work in our four provinces.
The Union has grown the game and they are putting in what they consider to be the best people into these key roles. While some players of my own vintage stepped quickly into coaching, others have been steadily developing their skillset.
It may take a few years but there’s a bit of homegrown quality down the track alright. I’d be a big fan of Mike Prendergast, who is the attack coach at Oyonnax in the PRO14 and I am surprised he hasn’t been snapped up by an Irish team.
Michael Bradley and Jeremy Davidson have been tipping away nicely off Broadway, Bradley at Zebre, and Davidson at Bordeaux, after an impressive spell at Aurillac. He is someone who will do very well if given the right opportunity.
The goalposts on what constitutes ‘a good coach’ are changing rapidly. You read up on conference papers now from across the world and it seems a coach’s responsibilities begin and end with handing over ownership and responsibility to the players from the get-go.
This is where things get a little too theoretical for my liking.
Four and a half months in New Zealand has already utterly transformed my view of coaching.
I have learned so much from the teaching aspect of coaching and how to get players to
How connecting with people and understanding what motivates the player is fundamental.
Certainly, in my initial spell in France, it was all about telling players what you wanted from them. Walk throughs and so on.
There’s a saying I’ve heard here: Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.
Undoubtedly, empowering players is the way things are going, but let’s not sideline the coaching expertise just yet. Any dressing room will fail without a game plan.timg]DanCarterandRonanOGaraJun17_large.jpg[/timg]
The happy medium is delivering that structure and expectation through the team leaders. Meet with them, go through the requirements and they deliver the key points to the squad to ensure buy-in.
A coach who is not directing operations in an overall context is essentially a facilitator. It’s just a question of how his guidance and thoughts are perceived by the group. You can still pass on ownership of the game plan to the dressing room.
This idyllic notion that you simply allow players trial and error their way to a solution is a bit too simplistic to my mind.
One of the many fortuitous breaks I got in rugby, and in life, was coming through at the same time as a remarkable group of leaders in Munster.
We had a unique set of people who could figure their way out of the tightest spot. Defeat was never accepted. As Alex Ferguson might say, we just ran out of time on occasions. But we always had a game plan in the first instance.
The Crusaders philosophy is all about the individual, his wellbeing, mindfulness.
There’s a robust coaching structure in place under Scott Robertson, and it’s one the players have a healthy involvement in. We were down to 13 men for stages of the second half in Canberra last Saturday but never yielded and held the Brumbies scoreless in a 21-8 win.
It wasn’t pretty, but I love that sort of winning rugby. Nevertheless, it was a bad week on the injury front.
We have lost hooker Ben Funnell to an ACL, lost a back row, Tom Sanders, who rebroke his leg, while Luke Romano fell awkwardly and did his ankle ligaments.
Israel Dagg was only returning after a lengthy spell on the sideline with a complicated knee injury and he was clobbered around the neck by Brumbies winger Chance Peni and the fall tweaked his knee again.
Thankfully it doesn’t appear to be long-term problem. Peni received a five-week ban for his troubles.
Because Rugby Union competes with League and the AFL in Melbourne — on top of global events like Formula One and the Melbourne Cup — the poor form of Australia’s Super Rugby franchises means the game is getting pushed down the pecking order in this most sporting of cities.
The local wisdom here is that the Wallabies will still be competitive in 2019 but as a barometer of what direction the national team is going, the test series with Ireland next month is very important to Wallaby fans.
I can’t think of a series where Ireland has come down to Australia as favourites to win, but if you go through the respective squads, it’s the only logical conclusion. Whether a decision has been made yet on Jonny Sexton’s involvement in the tour I’m not sure.
It is obviously a big tour for Joey Carbery, but every bit as big, and bigger, is the decision of where he plays in club rugby from next autumn. I am struggling to understand (again, not being privy to the thoughts of Lansdowne Road on this) why Munster are not in the frame for Carbery.
Maybe they are behind the scenes. Ian Keatley is 31 now, so that’s not succession planning. And on form, Carbery is ahead of JJ Hanrahan.
The unknown factor in this equation is Tyler Bleyendaal, who has been so unlucky with a problematic neck issue. One presumes if he is fit he starts for Munster next season, hence coming into the frame for Ireland. But we aren’t sure when Tyler is available again to resume his professional career.
If he isn’t, then Carbery to Munster becomes a live debate surely? Hopefully it’s good news on Tyler. If so, he’s the one looking to challenge Jonny for the World Cup with Carbery.
But if Tyler’s injury problems persist, it makes sense for Munster and for the national team to have Carbery in Munster.
Anyone looking for the easy fit sees there’s no Irish out-half ready to play in Ulster, but the easy fit isn’t always the best solution for player and country.