By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
I WAS indulging in some girly pampering on my day off on Friday, but I couldn’t resist the odd glimpse at my Twitter feed. That’s where I saw the news that John Kirwan was out of the running for the England job because he was seen as too inexperienced. After reading that I needed a few more treats to perk me up.
Kirwan, you see, was the man I favoured to take over the England reins if Stuart Lancaster’s interim spell did, in fact, turn out to be interim. And to rule him out on experience grounds because he hadn’t coached one of the ‘Big Eight’ countries seemed daft to me.
For a start, he’s been involved in more World Cup games (23) than anyone (11 as a player for New Zealand, four as Italy coach and eight as Japan coach). Okay, he’s not coached one of the world’s top eight countries but surely experience in the game’s showpiece tournament counts for something, especially when the next England coach will be guiding the team to a home World Cup in 2015.
Then look at his most recent coaching record with Japan. With Kirwan in charge, Japan rose from 19th to 11th in the world rankings – an impressive leap. His Japanese side also caused France numerous problems in their opening game of last year’s World Cup, a couple of late French tries putting an undeserved gloss on the scoreboard. The schedule proved their undoing after that, but he had Japan playing an attractive rugby style that suited their skill-set. What could he do with the playing resources, not to mention money, available in a country like England? Well, sadly we won’t find out because he won’t be given the chance.
He’s probably seen as too much of a risk, something of an unknown. But a quick look at two recent World Cup-winning coaches shows that sometimes it’s worth taking a punt. Sir Clive Woodward led England to glory in 2003 but when he took over the England reins in 1997 he was Andy Robinson’s assistant at Bath and internationally had only worked with England U21. That choice proved something of a masterstroke as he had a vision that suited the professional era. Kirwan hasn’t even been given the chance to put forward his vision at an interview.
Jake White’s coaching experience was limited to schools and international age-grade rugby when he became South Africa coach in 2004, but his Springboks went on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in 2007. So experience isn’t everything.
As it was the headhunting firm employed by the RFU that informed Kirwan he wouldn’t be put forward for an interview, I also have to ask why there was a need for headhunters in the first place. It seems like a waste of money to me. Everyone worth knowing knew there was a vacancy and if a coach can’t be bothered to apply for one of the biggest jobs in rugby then he shouldn’t even be considered for the job. The RFU should be looking for someone with enthusiasm and drive, not someone who needs to be mollycoddled and persuaded to apply for the post.
People are saying the job is now Nick Mallett’s to lose, but with Kirwan out of the running I’d like Lancaster to be given the opportunity full-time. He’s got even less experience than Kirwan but at least he was granted an interview. He’s created a great buzz within the England squad and the players have bought into his approach, so why break up a happy camp?