As attack and backs coach at Super Rugby’s reigning champions the Hurricanes, Jason Holland has some pretty special talent at his disposal and as the former Munster hero sees it, there is no better place to be as he continues to cut his coaching teeth.
Winning the southern hemisphere’s greatest club prize in his first season on the Hurricanes coaching ticket under head coach Chris Boyd and alongside former Ireland forwards coach John Plumtree makes for an impressive strike rate for the 44-year-old and working with players of the calibre of Beauden Barrett and younger brother Jordie Barrett, wings Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder scrum-half TJ Perenara as well as newest All Blacks centre call-up Ngani Laumape is more than just a privilege for a young coach. It is also an opportunity.
Moving into coaching under Tony McGahan at Munster was a natural transition but Holland admits being backs coach to his long-standing former team-mates was not an ideal introduction to the role.
“I am enjoying it. I really enjoyed my time at Munster (but) the borders were a bit blurred… I look back on the first year or two and it was a little bit like that,” Holland said. “Maybe you weren’t tough enough on boys in some areas. I learned my lesson in my coaching at Munster and it has made a difference since I have been back.”
A two-season spell with ITM Cup province Canterbury ironed out some more wrinkles before the Hurricanes came calling after a 2015 Super Rugby season in which they had reached the final, losing to fellow Kiwis the Highlanders.
“Having a couple of things in the back of my head around what was effective in Ireland and what was important for me as a coach and then being able to implement them with these boys, they wanted to play a good style of footy which was great.
“Coming up here it is quite a different environment to Canterbury but the boys still want to play. We hadn’t won a championship so last year was awesome because the boys were so desperate.
“We are having to recreate that at the moment. We have been average the last few weeks and we have got to get that back but from a coaching point of view, you live every day on your feet and I’m learning lots since being back.
“The big thing is around trying to continue letting the boys have that bit of flair and play when it is on to play and that sort of thing. Sometimes you have to try and put a lid on these boys and be a little bit ruthless. Scoring four and letting in two because of shit offloads is great but it doesn’t win you championships, so I am trying to find a balance.
“I want to give them grief if they try something and spill it here and then they score three or four tries from it. That is the big learning for me to have that balance with the style of boys here.”
Holland relishes the freedom his head coach affords him and also forwards coach Plumtree on the Hurricanes training pitch at Rugby League Park in the Wellington suburbs.
“Boydy’s awesome as a head coach. He’s the boss who doesn’t do a lot of coaching on the field. He just sits over everything and lets you do your bit, which has been great for me because I’ve been able to run the attack and the backs. That’s my puppy and he rarely says or has anything to do with it, which has been awesome for me.
“I suppose you want to be able to coach what you believe a lot of the time. Sometimes in a system that can be a bit difficult. If you want to have a go, have a kick here or a crack there and the boss says ‘no, we can’t do that’; so that’s been awesome for me.
“So I’m enjoying that, I’m learning every day and it’s been good working with Plum. He’s quite different but passionate about it and we complement each other quite well because he loves the motivation and puts a bit of ticker into it whereas I tend to put a bit more into detail and he can come in as the bad cop sometimes. So I’ve enjoyed Plum and there’s a bit of banter off the park too.
“You’ve got to have a thick skin, just like at Munster. We used to need a thick skin around the place, not take things too personally and it’s just the same here. It’s important to have fun. If it’s all too serious for people, you won’t get anything out of them. So you’ve got to have that balance we were talking about whether to offload or not, it’s also whether you have to be serious the whole time in training.”
Like many young coaches in the New Zealand system overseen by High Performance Coach Development Manager Bruce Blair, Holland’s professional development programme allows him to gain experience outside rugby and away from New Zealand.
“I came to Ireland as part of that big OE (Overseas Experience). Myself, Chris Boyd and Bruce Blair went to a summit in London, which was only okay, then nipped over to the Munster v Maori game — there wasn’t much development going on there that night — but then we went to Montreal, where Cirque du Soleil have their base, where they train and do all their rehearsals.
“We just watched how their coaches directed and how they put together their day. It was awesome, really awesome. All their artists, who are top trampolinists and do all their tricks, we were there three or four days and saw how they taught, how they worked with different people from all over the world, there were lots of good little things to come out of that.
“Then we went to the San Antonio Spurs and Pop (Gregg Popovich) their famous and successful coach. We watched him operate with the Spurs for a few days on the way home, it was great.
“So we were gone for about two and a half weeks. Things like that they get you out and try and get you of the box and thinking a bit more laterally. That was cool, looking at finding ways... I don’t know how much you get out of going to other rugby clubs now, unless you’re looking for detail around the game. It’s all around culture and how you put your weeks together, and teaching, how you can teach differently and how you can keep messages clear, all those sorts of things that I’m interested in.
“So those were the things, teaching aspect of things, that I reckon help me develop at the moment, getting cues as to how different people learn and how to get the best out of them really.”
Buoyed by the Barretts
Judging by the way the Hurricanes outscored the British & Irish Lions by four tries to three in an exciting 31-31 draw on Tuesday, Jason Holland is getting his message across loud and clear as their attack coach.
While pushing the Lions all the way at Westpac Stadium, the Super Rugby defending champions were missing their star half-back pairing of TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett.
Fly-half Barrett, who will lead the All Blacks into Saturday’s second Test against the Lions at his home ground, is undoubtedly the jewel in the Hurricanes’ crown and Holland is full of praise for the 26-year-old.
“The beauty of Beaudie is that he just reacts really well and sees pictures really quickly,” Holland said. “He can see a picture whether it’s on the run or not for him all the time, whether it’s on for someone else.
“He’s a really clever guy, he sees things himself but mate, if you tell Beaudie that, you need to trust him. If he sees something you do it, that’s where a lot of his success came last year, the kick game, the kick wide. He’s just hearing one call and banging it, nailing it every time.
“I like working with Beaudie, because he’s obviously got awesome skills and talent and a great athlete. But he depends on his fellow players massively and he puts them under pressure.
“That’s the key to him. If he’s not getting the chat from the outside guys and if we review clips and ask them why he didn’t get the ball to that space, we’re into those guys on the outside because Beaudie didn’t do it.
“We don’t expect Beaudie to do everything, Beaudie likes that. He’ll trust the 18-year-old who’s come on — if he gets a call, he’ll just kick it. He’ll nail it every time “It’s something that was a massive part of us winning last year, we got good at giving info. So we got the ball to the space, we got good at seeing and providing that info to our drivers and sometimes people talk about ‘Beaudie saw that, TJ saw that’... but I’d tell them... it sounds simple, it’s the same with playing club footy, but you’ve got to learn it and it can make a massive difference to your team when you go where the space is.”
Holland believes Barrett may have some added pressure from within at the Hurricanes, in the shape of his kid brother. Jordie Barrett started at full-back at the Westpac Stadium on Tuesday having been released from All Blacks camp alongside Julian Savea and Laumape to represent their franchise and take a normally once in a career opportunity to play the Lions. He nailed all four of his side’s conversions and a penalty as well as slotting in at fly-half when starting No.10 Otere Black was substituted in the second half. It is a role that could become permanent, Holland reckons.
“Mate, Jordie’s pretty special. I haven’t had this chat with Jordie lately, but I’m still convinced he’s a midfielder. His skillset is phenomenal. He has this thing in Captain’s Run, he kicks goals and sees how far he can kick it from. He consistently nails goals from 62, 63m, unbelievable.
“He’s still learning, Jordie, he still makes some average decisions which is understandable for a 19-year-old (Barrett turned 20 in February), but he’s from the same stock as Beaudie. They’re driven, intelligent.
“They’ll just work at their skillsets, Jordie is only going to get better. He’s tall (1.95m). He’s pretty quick, not lightning, but he’s quick. When we do any long, endurance stuff or 100m sprints with a turnaround on the 30 or whatever, it’s always Beaudie and Jordie fighting it out in front of everyone with TJ.
“Those three are so competitive. Jordie’s got it all. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up in midfield.”
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