The proposals for the globalisation of rugby have been floated out there, a World League between 12 nations in the summer and November windows. The way things are shaping it will not be unusual in the future to see northern hemisphere coaches in charge of southern hemisphere nations and vice versa. In broad terms, you are talking about 20 weeks in the year all told, which wouldn’t necessitate moving lock, stock and children to the other side of the world. It should be feasible to coach in the other hemisphere in blocks of ten weeks twice a year. In doing so, it will open up the hemispheres to different thinkers and alternative styles.
Not that I was thinking of the New Zealand head coach position but the appointment of Scott Robertson as the man-in-waiting caught me by surprise as much as it thrilled me. The information from sources who cannot be trusted was that the NZRU liked the package of Jamie Joseph with Tony Brown and that they were in pole position to get the gig. Given the split vote, so to speak, on the merits of Razor and/or Joe Schmidt and the unlikelihood of them presenting as a combo, Joseph looked a decent shout. What do I know?
Now the intrigue lies around who will come in with Razor – not on his coattails, mind. My former Crusaders head coach likes those around him to be of their own mind, with their own unique contribution to make.
He has some time for sure before October, but he will have a good idea who he wants involved. He will look to create a particular type of environment, and will appoint on that basis. Clearly, there will be a big emphasis on indigenous coaches.
Maybe if this was after our Crusaders stint, or some time in the future when coaches will be moving more freely between the hemispheres, it would have been an intriguing proposition – not suggesting in any way that he would have been interested in hooking up again - but realistically we have done the family thing in a different hemisphere. It would, metaphorically as much as literally, have been turning the world upside down again for me. My energy now is for the club game at least for another cycle, so then we can see what happens.
Are there days when you think the international test route would be a tasty alternative? Were there games in the Six Nations where you think, I could have a positive impact on the way that team is playing? That I could add something a bit different to what they are doing?
It isn’t as cut and dried as thinking club coaching is a young man’s game and the test arena is for greybeards. Whether you are 46 or 56, the importance of maintaining that connection with players is critical, and you would think easier to achieve via daily interaction. I fear the older I get the more at risk I am of losing that. No-one can tell me for sure that my best coaching days are ahead of me. I like working week on week developing the player and the person in real terms. Who needs a bit of a carrot, who needs something very different? Within ten minutes, you can usually size up what you are dealing with, and I love the challenge of getting into that dynamic, pushing the envelope.
I don’t believe there is an age imperative for moving from club to country for coaches. If someone is moving the graph up - as Razor surely will with the All Blacks once he takes over – that has to be the only metric that matters. He will create a very positive dynamic and culture. Those qualities I discovered at the Crusaders opened my eyes and are the ones I set my clock by every day. The idea of a strong growth mindset is lived every day at that club, where Razor instigated so many positives.
But they were winners too. I am as strong an advocate of mental health in sport as anyone, but I'm wary when the debate drifts into an area where trophies won is not the only metric of success. It’s not a bad benchmark for development. You can get all that safety net where you are ‘growing the environment’ and ‘growing the group’ as a coach but that has to have context too. When you wake up the morning after losing a final, does someone want me to feel good? Is it normal to feel good then, because in my world, if you feel ok mentally after losing a final, there is something wrong. It needs to be a more rounded, realistic discussion with the medics and the psychologists. Sport is a crucible, littered with broken dreams. I’ve regularly felt sick with depression after a defeat but my mental health is fine.
Tomorrow night, La Rochelle play our rivals Bordeaux Begles in front of 42,000 in the stadium where Ireland will open their World Cup campaign next September. I'm a glass-half-full mindset now, so I'm only thinking about the opportunity we have on Saturday night. But the thought of underperforming pushes me very close to the edge.
France and the All Blacks are beginning their countdown to the World Cup from very different start points. The loss in Dublin has done little to infiltrate the hosts’ confidence ahead of the autumn. If anything, the defeat to Ireland was viewed as the ideal reality check that turned up some good learnings. This sense was franked by the improvements and performance at Twickenham.
In the land of the Grand Slam champions, Andy Farrell has plenty of bits and pieces to be stirring his coffee with. He will know England offered very little offensively last weekend but still had two good opportunities for tries in the opening 12 minutes. Given how jittery Ireland were, a 7-0 England lead would have presented a different sort of psychological challenge to the 3-0 they had before Ireland set themselves.
England just lack confidence in their attacking game at the moment, it is something they need to build. But when? Conversely, Ireland will regather come August with confidence through the roof and the pathway for France well laid out. The thing is the Six Nations momentum stops this week. The players will be coming on the back of a successful European finish to their season (or not..) and setting their minds on the warm-up games.
Donal Lenihan made the good point on these pages that World Cups tend to take on a life of their own. What Farrell has in his corner is a very settled, hungry squad with huge competition for places. Their enviable record in all competitions shows they have acquired a precious ability to find a way to win games. Ireland have won 10 in a row since the first test defeat in Auckland and 21 of their last 24 since losing two in a row at the start of the 2021 Six Nations. These are good numbers. Whatever is presented to them they have found a solution.
Caelan Doris is a seriously nice player. Hugo Keenan has been brilliant, and I don’t think Ireland would have beaten Scotland without Mack Hansen.
Much like Ireland's, Italy's World Cup pool is challenging, but it is worth noting that they are developing at a rate. It wasn’t long since most were calling for their relegation but there has been huge growth in most aspects of their game. The amount of tries they butchered against Wales and Scotland in the Six Nations offers evidence that there are still plenty of improvements to make but Kieran Crowley is ticking all the right coaching boxes.
The tournament’s growth mindset award goes to Italy.