4 May 2012

Ireland's Coaching Vacuum

Leinster celebrating historic win
The Irish provinces are enjoying an all-time high in club rugby. May 19th will see the final of Europe's most cherished club rugby competition, the Heineken Cup, contested between two Irish provinces; Leinster and Ulster.

The fact that Ulster have effectively booted Munster (a dominant side in recent years) into third position in the Irish hierarchy is rather significant. It shows a depth in Irish rugby which perhaps they have never before enjoyed to such an extent (apart from in the propping stakes). If you're an Irish fan it's hard not to have a glint in your eye thinking about the possible repercussions at International level.

Ireland will be travelling to NZ in June to complete a 3 match tour in the land of the long white cloud. Perhaps this year, more than any, Ireland, riding on the wave of provincial success, may have a shot at ending a long winless streak against their hosts, who could possibly suffer the usual 'world cup hangover' that seems to affect most winners.

However, have they indirectly handed NZ a long term advantage with the way they are structuring their provincial teams? Are they creating an 'Irish coaching vacuum'?

Alarming Trend

If you look deeper at the situation, Irish provinces may be setting an alarming trend which could cause them problems in the future. At professional level, Irish rugby is split between four provinces; Munster, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht. Three of those four teams are now/or will be coached by New Zealanders next year.
Irish rugby is almost becoming a breeding ground for Kiwi coaches looking to cut their teeth.

It is well documented how well former Bay of Plenty coach Joe Schmidt has fared since his appointment at Leinster two seasons ago. He has also been supported ably by two other Kiwis, in former All Blacks Jono Gibbes and Greg Feek. Two successive Heineken Cup finals tell their own story and it seems their Irish rivals have taken a leaf out of their book as a result.

Ulster announced the signing of former Auckland coach Mark Anscombe a few weeks ago and current Cantebury and NZ U21 coach Rob Penney is now set to take the reigns at Munster next season. Both of the men incoming are excellent coaches in their own right but they aren't exactly local.

 Those decsions leave only Connacht, long regarded as the forgotten little brother in Irish rugby, as the only side actually coached by an Irishman.

Short-term gain...long-term pain?

In the short term this may be a of great use to the provinces. These Kiwis are being given the opportunity for a reason. They are damn good coaches and the lack of opportunity to coach at Super Rugby level has forced them to look elsewhere. Rob Penney for example has won four consecutive ITM Cups in Christchurch and all bring with them a vast amount of intellectual property in terms of rugby coaching, tactics and performance.

Current Ireland coach Declan Kidney
In the long-term though, where does it leave Irish coaches on the ladder? Ireland has produced good international coaches in recent years because they have been given a chance to coach domestic sides in tough competitions first. Just look at Eddie O'Sullivan or Declan Kidney. Would they be where they are without those opportunities? With the current trend, Irishmen may have to look elsewhere for an opportunity. Just ask Conor O'Shea.

What do you think? Is it an alarming trend? Or is this just another aspect of globalisation taking over rugby? People don't seem to have any qualms with Warren Gatland coaching Wales and many in fact were pleading for Wayne Smith to coach England.


  1. Anonymous21 May, 2012

    Great blog, there are some very good Irish coaches not getting a chance. I think Munster have it right appointing Penney but with the stipulation that Foley stay on as forwards coach as head coach in waiting. Hopefully, histime under Penney will add ore to his skillset.

    1. Thank you very much! Please tell friends etc!

      Yes I think Penney is a great coach. He will do a sterling job with Munster, but the reality is that the expectation with Munster is very high, so it's a difficult job to walk into.

      I agree with you that there is talent in the coaching department in Ireland..the problem is are they not getting the chance.

      The example of Ulster's coach being moved to train the academy players, so that Anscombe could take over as Head Coach I think backs that up to a degree.

      There is room for the very best coaches from abroad, but I think when you bring in largely unsuccessful ones such as Anscombe...you could be starting a dangerus precedent.

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