I’ve already pointed out that this appointment should be made by a newly appointed Performance Director working in tandem with the Professional Game Board that the IRFU committee has already agreed should lead them into the future.
In the absence of this professional body CEO Philip Browne at least has accepted that help is required in making the appointment by confirming that the existing National Team Review Group will be seeking outside professional advice and that someone with experience and expertise in professional rugby will be added to the interview panel.
With an interim management team led by Les Kiss appointed to take the side on their North American tour in June, the IRFU have bought themselves a bit of time. Given the economic climate and the pressure on revenues experienced in recent times, are the IRFU in a position to break the bank and get the best man for the job or will they now confine their search to those already in employment such as Leinster’s Joe Schmidt, Irish U20 coach Mike Ruddock or promote Kiss to the top job on a permanent basis?
Browne is also on record that he is confident of securing a world class coach but do the governing body have the finances to appoint a proven international coach with World Cup winning pedigree such as former South African coach Jake White? New Zealand World Cup-winning coaches Graham Henry and Wayne Smith are two more capable of maximising the talent available in this country.
Another key question the Union has to address is whether or not they are willing to buy a coach out of his existing contract — White is currently reviving the fortunes of the ACT Brumbies in Super 15 rugby — or do they stick to the stance when approving the signing of a big name overseas player for the provinces where they have steadfastly refused to buy any player out of an existing contract.
The FAI went for broke when appointing Giovanni Trapattoni, offering him over four times the going rate for an international manager with a reputed annual salary of €1.2m. Business man Denis O’Brien was a key figure in this arrangement by agreeing to underwrite a considerable amount of the Italian’s salary but one wonders, in order to get the best man for the job, would the IRFU be willing to countenance such an arrangement?
Current finances would suggest that the Union will be shopping in less salubrious malls with someone from within being appointed. Joe Schmidt’s long term plan is to return home and coach in his native New Zealand, a journey he is planning to make at the end of next season. The lure of coaching at international level and leading Ireland to the 2015 World Cup would only extend his stay by 18 months, enabling him to return home at that stage with valuable international experience added to an already impressive CV. One suspects that he would also find favour with the majority of players in the current national squad.
Schmidt apart, the one person in my view with the vision, charisma, expertise and communication skills to do the job and is Irish to the core is Conor O’Shea. Despite the fact that he doesn’t have international experience, I think he would do an excellent job.
He could well be more suited to the role of Performance Director but unless the job description fitted his vision and the reporting lines were clear to the extent that he wouldn’t be responsible to an amateur committee, he will be more than happy to continue his excellent work at Harlequins. He remains someone who should definitely be on the IRFU’s radar.
The IRFU need to crack on and put their Professional Board and Performance Director in place. The last thing Ireland need is a compromise appointment in the head coach’s role. We have under-performed in so many World Cups to date that making the right appointment now is crucial to maximising the return from the decent draw we have already secured for the 2015 event.