Are you the best coach in the world?

This post is from our regular column in the Irish Post, the highest-selling newspaper for the Irish in Britain (which these days includes businessmen, lawyers and doctors, as well as Glasgow-bound day-tourists singing bigoted songs). The paper is published on Wednesday’s in Britain.

SO what now then? There is the slimmest sliver of a chance that Kidney’s contract will be renewed, and there are two factors at play: the conservatism of the Union, and the two remaining opponents in the Six Nations.

Starting with the two opponents, the key variable in Deccie’s favour is that both will be in our pool at RWC15 in England — France and Italy. If Ireland produce a commanding (and winning) display against the French, and slap Italy down in the manner of, say, 2007, any conservative waverers on whatever amateur committee decides these things will have a stick to grab hold of, and argue that Kidney’s Ireland are, in fact, well-placed to do well in the next World Cup.

And it’s the amateur conservatism that is important here — for we must consider what happens next. If Deccie refuses to resign (and why should he?), he has a contract until the end of the season, meaning that the lamest of lame duck coaches could be taking Ireland on a development tour to North America. The likes of Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw and Luke Marshall — who will be on or close to the first team in RWC15 — will essentially have a wasted summer, in development terms.

That Kidney badly wants to stay in the role is not in doubt. Forget his recent — and typical — unwillingness to give a straight answer to the question, and read between the lines of his actions instead.

Kidney’s current approach to selection and the captaincy has all the hallmarks of a man throwing money down in a casino, knowing he has little to lose. Having been wilfully conservative in matters of selection up until as recently as last summer, the 60-0 defeat in New Zealand appears to have flicked a switch in his head.

Now he’s changed the captain, thrown a 10 with place-kicking issues into an away test match for his debut, jettisoned Ronan O’Gara and persisted with media darling Craig Gilroy in spite of superior options being available — Luke Fitzgerald has a superior kicking and defensive game and is a good attacker, and Andrew Trimble is ahead in the Ulster pecking order due to his defence and workrate.

It looks like a slightly over-eager attempt to position himself as a forward-looking coach who has one eye on 2015, and therefore may just be the man to lead the team there. The trouble is none of it has worked so far.

What will happen in parallel? Will one of the Union’s amateur committees, and not the one who will be studying the recommendations of the professional review group (PRG, which has yet to meet) from last year, meet in the interim to decide who will be the manager from next season?

Or will they, like the English RFU, outsource the appointment to some expert group? If they don’t, can you imagine the top coaches, Vern Cotter or Fabien Galthie for example, explaining to a blazer how they plan to move forward with the team. Unlikely.

Appointment by those within means appointment from within, which means handing the reins to Mike Ruddock or Joe Schmidt. Ruddock has an under-20 RWC in June, and Schmidt has indicated next season will be his last in this hemisphere — neither is an easy transition, though the case for Schmidt is so strong as to be undeniable, and the Union should do everything it can to secure him for the role.

The path of least resistance actually seems to be to keep Kidney on, and hope for an upturn in performances — it’s stunning to think that such a lack of decisiveness might exist at the top of Irish professional rugby, but it’s not being run by professionals.

In fact, when we think about the process that is (probably) about to begin, it’s worth taking a step back and recalling the way the coaches of the Irish national side have been appointed since professionalism in 1995:

• Brian Ashton: chance phone call from his agent to Pat Whelan, hawking the “best coach in the world” — the Union took the bait, Murray Kidd was sent packing, and Ashton was given a SIX-YEAR contract. He stayed for one

• Warren Gatland: Gatty had spent time in Galway in the early 1990s, and he was flown over from NZ to coach Connacht after the Union balked at Eddie O’Sullivan’s request for contract stability. When Ashton was hastily disposed of, Gatty (one of only two provincial coaches in situ, a huge issue for Ashton) was promoted to the big gig

• Eddie O’Sullivan: Dagger joined Gatty’s team as attack coach in 2000, and the gradual improvement in performances was credited to the native rather than the Kiwi. After a(nother) November defeat to New Zealand, the Union changed ships — silverware followed

• Declan Kidney: Deccie was Eddie’s number two for a couple of seasons, but that was never going to work — that experience allowed him to press for his own coaching team, which delivered first time up. But Deccie himself only got the nod after a trawl of available Southern Hemisphere coaches revealed nought.

When we consider that the man (Whelan) who piloted the first appointment of the professional era, that of Ashton, is likely to be involved in the next one, we aren’t filled with confidence.

What should happen is the roles in-scope of a national coach should be defined, as should the targets and reporting structure (which should be to the director of rugby sanctioned by the PRG) — then a suitable candidate sought.

The entire process is fundamentally flawed — no one knows what Deccie’s job targets are, no one can say what the new coaches should be doing, and the edifice that has taken Irish rugby through the first generation of professional players is crumbling.
Right now, all work is still being conducted by amateurs — as well-meaning as they might be, it ain’t gonna work in this day and age.


  1. jojo

     /  March 8, 2013

    Professionals like Humphreys and O’Shea need to be brought in at some level to the IRFU.
    The IRFU is the real problem with the state of Irish rugby.

    • zdm

       /  March 8, 2013

      jojo, I’ve been banging this drum for a long time now.
      It’s actually embarrasing that a team that a tier 1 team has a herd of amateurs with more bite than the national team coach and no notion of who will be doing what in 2 years time.

      WoC: bit harsh on Gilroy – with all available wingers, they pick Bowe and Trimble because Anscombe understands the need for a balanced team and Trimble offers qualities to Ulsters play that Bowe does not. The player keeping Gilroy out of Ulsters ideal first 15 is Tommy Bowe, by far the best wing in Ireland. As for Luke Fitz, choosing him ahead of Gilroy is based on reputation and not current form – he has not shown anywhere near the abilities of 3 years ago since coming back.

      • Joseph

         /  March 12, 2013

        Absolutely agree with this, the defensive arguement I was sure was put to bed in the Welsh match where he wasn’t just competent, he was excellent.
        I think Gilroy is a nice breath of fresh air, we have been crying out for some time for a Shane Williams type winger in Ireland. He may not play every game, he may not suit every game but I love having him in the team.
        I think Fitzgerald’s renaissance has begun, and would be delighted to see him get back to his best, but he’s just not quite there yet.

  2. Bushmills

     /  March 8, 2013

    Great post and agree with the desperate need to professionalize the administration structure. In any business (and international rugby is a business) an offer of a contract is not made without an extensive interview process at all levels of an organization. In this case that means the unions, the players, the back up staff, as well as the blazers.

    A contract will set our the terms of pay and the performance measurement criteria or benchmarks. In this case a RWC target or 6N target. This protects the employer and incentivises the employee.

    I don’t buy into all this clamor for the need for a coach who understands Irish rugby. A good coach will have a vision and work with his players. Joe Schmidt, Michael Cheika or Mark Anscombe didn’t know much about the culture of Irish rugby before they arrived.

    I also don’t agree with this blog’s determination to see Joe Schmidt hired. He is a brilliant coach but he is the Leinster coach. Haven’t we been here before? (Irish province excels in Europe – coach get the national job). Nobody doubts Declan Kidneys rugby nous or intellect but it has been patently obvious that he can’t get stellar provincial players to gel in the national side. And without wanting to cause a storm, it is fair to say he has shown faith in Munster players at the expense of firm players elsewhere.

    We need a coach that us free from Provincial rugby experience and has a clear vision of how that national team should play. The idea of it worked at Munster (Kidney) therefore it will work for Ireland has already been disproved. Same goes for Schmidt.

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

       /  March 8, 2013

      You last two paragraphs, seriously?

      Kidney is shite ergo Schmidt will be. Nonsense.
      Graham Henry failed to win WC’07 ergo he will fail in WC’11. Same kind of argument, we all know the result.
      Schmidt is consistently viewed by nearly all those untainted with a provincial bias as being the best rugby coach north of the equator. Ireland should be getting the best and Schmidt fits the description.

  3. therealspratt

     /  March 8, 2013

    Persisting with Craig Gilroy? Hardly the worst of Deccie’s sins, Gilroy’s had a rather solid few matches offensively and defensively, it’s not him I would be questioning but a certain Mr Earls! Good article though, the IRFU is definitely in a dire need for modernization and the blazers need to be put out to pasture!

    • solidalarry

       /  March 8, 2013

      Quite. Gilroy dropped some balls against Wales, and started catching them in the following games. He got virtually zero ball against Scotland and, had Luke Marshall not fluffed a pass, would still have scored two tries.

      I can understand why Ulster might play Trimble ahead of Gilroy at times but CG has taken to international rugby with more gusto than AT has ever shown, IMO.

      Of course, this is only a minor point with respect to the article.

  4. Mary Hinge

     /  March 8, 2013

    Blazers being put out to pasture – chance would be a fine thing.

    The IRFU have a wonderful opportunity to move mountains and appoint any of O’Shea, Schmidt, or Vern Cotter (there’s always a way if there’s a will), but I suspect the Cork Murphia will somehow find a way to re-appoint Kidney, or some other underwhelming appointment such as Ruddock, Foley, or Bradley (heaven forfend).

  5. Sam

     /  March 8, 2013

    Have to agree with others, ‘persisting with Gilroy’ is a bit of a weird statement. I don’t think Fitzgerald has shown a whole lot more than him the past couple of months to merit Gilroy being dropped after his 3rd cap, Trimble maybe has… but his exclusion is patently much more to do with falling way out of favour with the Irish set up than losing out at the expense of Gilroy.

  6. solidalarry

     /  March 8, 2013

    Fellas, must you take such a long run up before kicking me in the balls on a Friday afternoon? A new contract for Kidney – you make it all seem so plausible! Surely not?

  7. solidalarry

     /  March 8, 2013

    And, the answer to your question is: yes.

    Now, where’s my six-year deal? (staggering).

  8. Marius

     /  March 8, 2013

    Official IRFU statement on Monday morning after the match against Italy:
    “It is our valued and professional opinion, on top of of a pretty good warm fuzzy feeling in our tummies, that Declan Kidney is without doubt the man to take Ireland through to RWC 2015. Irrespective of common sense and the opinions of everyone outside of this brain trust, we are delighted to extend Declan’s contract for a further 4 years. Thank you”

  9. Rocky

     /  March 8, 2013

    I’m somewhat bemused by your relative adulation of Fitzgerald over Gilroy. LF has played 23 times for Ireland and scored two tries, the same number that Gilroy has scored in four matches. His scoring rate is one try per 11 matches. Trimble and Earls are around one in five and Bowe is about one in two. Trimble’s performances for Ulster this season still put him ahead of Gilroy (Anscombe and, presumably, Humphreys seem to agree) and, on merit, arguably Trimble and Gilroy should be the wings – of course, Earls will never be dropped while Kidney is there, or so it seems.
    As usual, the driver for change in personnel is injury, not coach(es). That’s not to say some changes are unwelcome. However, our injury count has been pretty horrific, it must be said and DK has had his options severely reduced.
    My other issue is with the talk of bringing in a professional management structure. I’m not sure just what such a thing would look like. It might be a good topic for another WoC article – to set out exactly what changes Ireland should be making, giving examples from other rugby nations, etc.
    Finally, I agree whole-heartedly that the job of the blazers is to run the domestic game and some low level management and finance issues; they have no part to play in terms of the senior squad or its matches.

    • Yeah, fair points on Gilroy vs. Luke. Luke has come back looking pin-sharp since his injury, while Gilroy’s form hasn’t really been all that since his explosive November. We went on record with a preference for Luke and Zebo before the series, to offer a bit more variety. But, listen, it’s a close run thing between a handful of good players. There’s a case to be made for all of Gilroy, Trimble, Earls, Fitzgerald and McFadden to take the jerseys. It’s one position where we do have depth.


         /  March 9, 2013

        I believe that the tenor of the comments may reflect a tinge of disappointment that WoC (usually measured and fair – to be fair) would descend to what amounts to an uncharacteristically sly dig at a fine young player who deserved his elevation to the team and certainly does not deserve to be dropped.

        I see that this post is taken from your day job column so playing to the crowd, perhaps? (as someone has remarked, it would have made more sense to point out DK’s persistence with Keet but maybe this wouldn’t have gone down so well…)

        Moving on, I raised an eyebrow at your point about “changing the captaincy” – now for a sly dig of my own – if memory serves, didn’t you support this?

        I laughed out loud that WoC (of all people) was citing the jettisoning of ROG as an example of Deccie’s poor decision-making – surely the only valid criticism is that this has come far too late in the day, no?

        still, nice to see that your normal website persona has had the good grace to accept the criticism – will this be reflected in the Irish Post next week?

  10. Connachtexile

     /  March 8, 2013

    I have the perfect replacement for Kidney and it Eddie O’Sullivan! He lives in Ireland so their won’t be much traveling and oh wait that’s the reason people use when they want to ram a coach down Connacht’s throat.

    P.S. As a Connacht and Irish fan I’d love Schmidt to manage Ireland. The guy is brilliant who cares where he comes from as long as he can do a job for us.

    • Schmidt’s the man for Ireland alright. Though of course that would leave Leinster looking for a coach. Eddie lives only half an hour from the Leinster border, and it’d be a crying shame if all the provinces were managed by foreigners. Hopefully Leinster can be relied on Do The Right Thing etc. and so on….

  11. Michael

     /  March 8, 2013

    Are we sure that O’Shea is actually any good? Granted Quins are on a roll, but he has basically picked up the ball and run with it after Dean Richards got binned (which admittedly is a skill in itself). The groundwork was set in place and he has benefited from some really good players coming through that he had nothing to do with. Marler, James Johnstone, Easter, Robshaw, Brown, Evans, Care etc etc.

    He was hardly tearing up trees at London Irish or with the England youth.

    Just sayin..

  12. Scrumdog

     /  March 8, 2013

    Great to read this article. The subject of replacing the amateur structure at the IRFU has long been a pet peeve of mine. Former professional players should be brought in to replace the Pat Whelan era amateurs from the 1970’s. I feel this is one of the reasons Ireland has been held back….. cronyism.

    People who understand professional rugby’s requirements, employed to put a national rugby philosophy in place and revitalize the game from schools through club to National level is what’s needed. It would be far better to have the likes of David Wallace, Shane Horgan and Mal O’Kelly with John O’Shea on the rugby end of things at Lansdowne Rd. A committee who have the knowledge to select a top flight coach who is suited to Irish rugby’s needs and who will bring a top flight coaching team in with him.

    We can only hope that the newspapers will begin a campaign of pressure against the IRFU to change, on behalf of ‘us’ the rugby stakeholders! The likes of Ward and Thornley are but servants of the IRFU.

    We need to clean house!

    • Yossarian

       /  March 8, 2013

      Not sure former professional players will eradicate cronyism-look what happens when they act as pundits! Also the assumption former pro players are the solution isn’t necessarily accurate. There is nothing to indicate that they will have the organisational skills to solve the many administrative issues currently running through the Irish set up. There is a cohort of people who have spent their career as professional coaches through the provincial systems. guys who have worked there way up as Youth development officers to Regional development officers worked with various rep teams etc. many have done MA’s in sports management and other further education courses. These could offer an alternative to the amateurs currently in situ. Or else combine your idea of former players with some of these guys who have worked through this system (Girvan Dempsey doing well in leinster at the moment for one)
      Sorry gone on a tangent but my point is assuming ex pro players know best isn’t necessarily the solution that there is a wealth of professional sports managers out there who could do a good job.

      • It is a very interesting subject.
        Most players make it as professionals because of a combination of superior physical abilities, hand-eye co-ordination, dedication and luck with injuries. While this doesn’t preclude them becoming top flight administrators, it doesn’t recommend them either.
        Sports with a longer professional record do not offer a single prescribed route: Giuseppe Marotta, the director-general of Juventus started in sports administration at 22 while Michael Zorc, sports manager of Borussia Dortmund, made a record number of appearances for the club.
        Ozzie Newsome is general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, current Superbowl champions. Newsome was on the NFL All-Pro team of the 80s and served 11 years as an executive with the Cleveland Browns before taking over as GM at Baltimore.
        Trent Baalke, general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, the team beaten by Baltimore in the Superbowl, has a background in scouting for professional franchises.
        Even within the NFL, the structure is not uniform: the New England Patriots do not have a general manager. Robert Kraft, their billionaire owner, serves as CEO and Chairman with Bill Belichick as head coach.
        In Ireland, David Humphreys is a qualified solicitor educated at Oxford as well as being a former international. His role at Ulster was created for him and his skill set and experience is extremely difficult to replicate as most professional players are precluded from gaining professional qualifications during their 20s due to time constraints.

      • scrumdog

         /  March 14, 2013

        I agree watch Quinlan and Sheehan begin to pave the way for the return of Kidney to Munster on Against the Head would’ve been comical if wasn’t so appalling! The two of them came down heavily on Penney for asking the press questions istead of answering theirs as well as Munster’s win/loss columns. Penney only just took over the coaching job at the beginning of the season with basically a new squad of young players who had proven nothing…yet who found their way into the national squad through DK who brought in Foley as well…it plainly reeks!

  13. Whispers from inside the Palindrome today are a win for Ireland sees Deccie retained and a loss will see Ruddock – a man who has “done his apprenticeship” ie is an IRFU man – replace him.

  14. Your comments about Kidney (and I am not a fan) are fair, but who is there to replace him? Look at how long it took England to get it right post-RWC-2003. Kidney has made some poor selective and strategic decisions, yet his hand has been compromised by injury this season. Though his contract should not be renewed based on the results he has delivered, he could be afforded an application for the next contract, as Graham Henry was for New Zealand after their loss in RWC-2007. Ireland under Kidney are an ordinary team with the capacity to compete (and on occasion beat) the best. An ill-suited successor would leave us in a far worse position.

  15. Yossarian

     /  March 10, 2013

    Funny to hear frankie sheehan say if we can’t get Schmidt or O’shea we should stick with kidney(assuming no one better) this is the arch conservatism ruining irish rugby. vern Cotter, Wayne Smith etc potentially available. listening to them we cast our net so short.I will be passing on my international tickets if Kidney remains in is to depressing to keep going along.

    • Seiko

       /  March 10, 2013

      Can anyone describe the difference between someone like Eddie Wigglesworth (former CEO of Leinster Rugby, now IRFU Director of Rugby for the last 10-12 years at least and a former amateur player) and David Humphreys (former professional player, Players’ Agent & now Ulster Director of Rugby)?

      What has Humphreys done to be regarded more of a professional administrator than Wigglesworth?

      What I’m really asking is – do people like Tom Grace, Browne, Pa Whelan etc. never learn anything from their past mistakes (and so can never be regarded as professional), while someone like Humphreys who has achieved nothing yet be regarded as the saviour of the game.

      • zdm

         /  March 10, 2013

        Before David Humphrey’s became a member of the backroom staff at Ulster, the IRFU were discussing whether or not to make them in to a development squad.
        4 years later, they are HC quarter finalists and basically guaranteed a Pro 12 play-off place.

        He has attracted world cup winners to Ulster and all of his big gambles (dumping a coach who got Ulster to a HC final, slinging his own brother for a 20 year old) look like playing off.

      • Anonymous

         /  March 10, 2013

        I doubt if any of those players would have come to Ulster without the cash injection from the IRFU (thanks to Tom Grace & others that the IRFU were in a position to supply extra money to fund these world class players). I think Matt Williams brought BJ Botha to Ulster by the way and the rest followed maybe.

        Jury is still out on Anscombe. Lets see how Ulster will do when Afoa, Pienaar & Muller leave/retire. And I’m not sure letting iHumphs leave was the best thing for Ulster Rugby and more beneficial to iHumphs because he got a new 3 year contract with LI – in fact if it was probably anyone else, Ulster would have made LI buy out his contract.

        I just don’t see how someone like D Humphreys can be regarded as the Messiah and people like Dawson, Fitzgerald etc. who have genuinely built up world class clubs with little fanfare but are regarded as old fogey amateurs.

      • zdm

         /  March 10, 2013

        Money is obviously a big draw for southern hemisphere stars but when Piennar moved to Ulster, he was being courted by Toulouse and Toulon if memory serves correctly.
        Ulster had finished the previous season 10th in the Magners league and exited the HC at the pool stage.

        What makes a player with the rugby world chasing him give up the opportunity to play for the European champions in the south of France to come to Belfast to a team who are propping up the Magners league? Money only gets you so far and if it was simply a matter of who has the biggest wallet, Pienaar would be eating frogs legs and drinking wine instead of sodas and pint of the black stuff.

  16. Seiko

     /  March 10, 2013

    As far as I can remember being assured that he would play in his favourite position (scrumhalf) may have been the deal breaker. Not too sure that Toulon or Toulouse would be too happy about spending most of the year with South Africa either.

    It must also have helped that it is an English speaking country and that several of his Sharks/SA team mates were already in Ulster or heading there which makes it a bit easier for his family to settle.

  17. Rich

     /  March 11, 2013

    The basis of this article is spot on – if Kidney had 4 years left on his contract would O’Gara have been given the boot in our current situation? I seriously doubt that. He is desperate now, bringing in L Marsh and Jacko, this would never have happened 2 years ago. He is all but gone now i suppose, so nest stop Ruddock me thinks, i ll happily take a year of progression and average results to get the young players some gametime.

    Strange dig at Gilroy? Is this a typo? Of all the things to dig at – picking Gilroy to highlight Kidneys muck ups is the most bizarre point i have read on this site. And Luke Fitz? Who has never done anything in an Ireland shirt, and continues to do so? Odd Odd Odd.

    • There’s a new fangled theory I read on some opinion site recently about rugby players who give “good face” being over-valued. Maybe that explains the Luke Fitz love-in?

      Just kidding (I think). In fairness WoC fessed up to this one when presented with the stats…

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