With the World Cup put to bed, the next great landmark for home union players is the Lions tour to Australia in 2013. There are also a number of coaches putting their best foot forward for the hardest coaching job in rugby.
The bookies’ front-runner is Warren Gatland, who has already agreed a five-month break in his WRU contract. The Lions has held its traditions better than any sporting team, even with the blip of 2005. The Lions is about picking the best of British and Irish talent, and having a foreign head coach sends a poor signal as to the strength of our rugby.
There’s also a certain irony as Gatland held a bias in selection against foreign-based players during his Ireland days and now in his Welsh capacity.
Of the other Six Nations coaches, Declan Kidney is a good outside bet. Declan ticks a lot of boxes. He won a Grand Slam in his first year in charge of Ireland to add to his two Heineken Cups with Munster. He has also had success in overseas competitions with Ireland, winning the Junior World Cup in 1998 and the 2009 Churchill Cup.
A more startling victory for Lions manager Andy Irvine and the Six Nations committee was Ireland’s pool win against Australia at New Zealand 2011. Yes, the Wallabies were without Pocock, Moore and Ioane, and yes, the wet conditions played into Ireland’s hands with their set-piece attack.
But still Ireland achieved a well-crafted victory. That template may not work on the hard Australian turf, but even so Kidney and his staff had the Wallabies worked out to perfection.
Kidney’s other strength is man-management, as he has proved at every level of the game. He has good working relationships with his coaching staff and allows them to have a big input into the way the team plays. This is an important virtue in a coaching staff just put together, as is his onus on players enjoying themselves on tour.
Kidney has one major disadvantage in that he has never coached a team with such public profile and such accompanying media pressures. He’s never been involved with the Lions and knowing the culture from the inside is a big bonus.
Andy Robinson has this experience but with the Scots failing to push on to the next level, you feel he’ll feature as a specialist coach at best. So too Shaun Edwards, who is happiest in the trenches of on-field coaching rather than the head coach pressures.
The final candidate is, of course, Ian McGeechan. If Irvine were to convince Geech to have one more go then he simply has to get the job. Geech always coaches at his best with an intimidating figure like Jim Telfer as a double act. Well, how about Martin Johnson as that foil? They had a great coach/captain relationship in 1997 and would be an exciting combo that would get my vote.
If not available, then a strong Six Nations by Ireland and IRFU allowance of a gap year could have Kidney, the man with the Midas touch, stepping into the breach.
This article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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