Greg Feek has taken a rather different route than the rest of Ireland’s touring party to reach Australia, yet two months in to a new career in Japan, the scrum coach could not be happier with his lot.
Eight years after joining fellow Kiwi Joe Schmidt’s new coaching team at Leinster, for what he imagined would be a two- or three-season stint in Ireland, the former All Black has taken the plunge and moved his family back to New Zealand while taking a job as an assistant coach at Japanese league club NEC Green Rockets.
Feek, 42, will remain as Ireland’s scrum coach through to the end of the 2019 World Cup campaign but will be based in Kashiwa, a town north-east of Tokyo for the short Japanese season allowing him more time at home in New Zealand his wife Jessica and their children.
After eight seasons in Ireland and the national team’s scrum coach since 2014, it is time to put family first, he said.
“The fact that I was able to stay there for seven years, eight seasons — I told the wife it would be two or three seasons and after five she was like ‘What’s happening?’
“She put the life on hold a little bit then because she understood these opportunities and who I was working with and how everything was going.
“She saw how excited I was when I first arrived about the potential and the people I worked with, but her time came to an end. I said ‘Right, if you need to get home, get home’ and in that period it was only two weeks and the club found out, contacted me, and I just thought it was a good fit for my coaching development going forward.
“There, I could go home but also do the Irish team. It’s only a one-year contract and it means next year is going to be full-on for me but I feel that I don’t want to die wondering in terms of giving it a crack.
“I’ve always challenged myself. Going to Ireland was a big call and I thought if I can do Ireland and that side of the world, I can do Japan.”
For Feek the chance to expand his coaching palate beyond his scrummaging role was another big incentive.
“It’s assistant coach, so I’m dealing with forwards, defence, breakdown. You’re pretty much involved in everything because if you going to win games, you can’t just focus on one or two areas and then close your eyes to the rest.
“That’s been the big part of it. I wouldn’t call myself the defence coach or whatever yet because Andy Farrell’s a defence coach, Wayne Smith’s a defence coach. You’re just learning about it and doing the best you can in terms of coaching it and you can only do so much because of the translations and everything else as well, so it’s actually a great learning tool.
“They love detail, similar to the Irish boys, and the process is huge and I think the thing I’ve learned is probably sometimes it can all be about black or white but sometimes it might just be in that grey area that sometimes life can be, and games can be, and that’s a comfortable place to be in as well.
Feek chuckles at the thought of having been forced into good habits. “You start to realise, I’ve got my wife and kids back in New Zealand, Joe and the boys are here and I’m there, so time management has become something that I’ve really nailed. I’m getting on top of that and energy management as well.
“It is different but it’s like any team — you get into the team culture and you get to know the boys, they get to know you. Communication starts to come a little bit easier. You learn people’s names and even when you’re learning a name, I won’t say it unless I can pronounce it properly. I was a little bit mute to start with, just out of respect, but all those little things are important.
“It’s a very respectful culture and the coaching has probably been the thing that’s stood out, the major learning, and it’s broader.
“Sometimes I’ll turn around because I thought I hear Joe talking but it was coming out of my mouth, just because I’ve been with him so long.”
He’s also picked some habits up from Farrell. “I might have used a Faz-ism at one stage as well, ‘Go, lad, go’ — not that I use that but it’s his northern English accent.
“You start realising what you have learned by osmosis but also I’m realistic that I have an area of the game that I want to be an expert in, so you’ve got to keeping that chipping away.”
Feek’s presence in Japan will be of benefit to Ireland’s World Cup cause next September. “I have picked up some good things for the World Cup already, just the littlest things that might just help make things beneficial for us. Well, even like at this time of the year it starts getting quite humid. The humidity increases from about now until September, if not part-way through September. So if you think about humidity you’ve got to make sure that you’re drinking lots of water, that you’re keeping hydrated, because you suddenly can just be feeling drained. That could be dehydration.
“The balls become a bit more slippery because your hands, you’re dripping (sweat).”
Feek could not recommend Japan highly enough to supporters as a country to visit in 15 months. “It is an amazing country. It is, and how mindful they are of others really stands out; the cleanliness, queuing up. I think the World Cup will be good fun. I think everyone will really enjoy it.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved