Too involved: Olivier Azam directs Toulon from the sidelines

Too involved: Olivier Azam directs Toulon from the sidelines, with Mignoni at his side

By Gavin Mortimer

AH! BACK-SEAT drivers, don’t they get on your nerves? “Left here”, “It’s green”, “Slow down”. SHUT UP!

Well, now we have our very own back-seat drivers in rugby, and they’re driving me to distraction. Who am I talking about? Coaches who stand on the touchline waving and wailing at their players. Worst of all are the coaches who can’t stop themselves holding up three fingers (how I’d like to hold up two fingers of my own in response) when there’s a penalty within range of the posts.

Isn’t that why we have captains, to make those decisions? This trend is particularly prevalent in the Top 14, and one of the worst offenders is Pierre Mignoni, the otherwise amiable backs coach at Toulon. Every time Toulon got a kickable penalty last season, there was Mignoni, fingers in the air as if ordering a round of beers at a Mediterranean café.

Toulon aren’t short of grizzled decision-makers. Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Giteau, Bakkies Botha and Joe van Niekerk are all vastly experienced internationals who don’t need to be treated like schoolboys in deciding whether to take the points, kick for the corner or take another option.

And how does Mignoni know exactly what’s going on out on the field? Perhaps the Toulon pack are on the verge of gaining a precious psychological hold over the opposition eight. In which case, kick for the corner and let’s turn the screw, boys. A coach wouldn’t be able to sense that from the touchline.

Coaches’ back-seat driving wouldn’t have been tolerated in the amateur era. Back then, a coach trusted his captain to make the right call.

But sometime in the past decade, when coaches became directors of rugby and attempted to control every aspect of their players’ lives, it changed. Wales No 8 Michael Owen tasted it for the first time when he captained the 2005 Lions against Argentina.

Telling Wilkinson to drill a penalty between the posts, Owen walked away, only to see the No 10 kick for the corner, having been instructed to by the coaches. Owen wrote later: “I felt totally undermined, and it was an indication of how Clive (Woodward) wanted to micromanage everything.”

Please coaches, stop meddling and treat your players like adults.

This was published in the August 2013 edition of Rugby World. Click here to see what’s in the current issue. 

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