John Kirwan is going to switch hemispheres and join Dean Ryan on the coaching team for the Northern Hemisphere XV for the Heroes Rugby Challenge at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday, 3 December.
The New Zealand legend has a rugby foot in both camps given he is a former coach of the Italian national side as well as having scored 35 tries in 63 Tests for the All Blacks, but he can’t wait to meet up with his squad and plan the downfall of a Southern Hemisphere side whose team manager is one of his World cup winning team mates from 1987, Sean Fitzpatrick.
The coach to the Southern XV is Nick Mallett, who succeeded Kirwan as the Italian coach. He was at the recent World Cup in New Zealand with the Azzurri, while Kirwan was coaching Japan. Now a free agent, the former record breaking All Blacks wing could well come onto the radar of the RFU in their search for a new Head Coach, and so next weekend’s game at Twickenham could be a useful audition for him. Not that Kirwan is viewing the game in that way. He is just happy to be helping out.
“It’s pretty easy to get involved when it’s such a fantastic cause. I’m really looking forward to coming over and helping out. When you see some of the things the game is raising money for, and what some of the guys have been through, it’s pretty easy to help,” said Kirwan. My grandfather, was in the war, and my uncle became a prisoner of war in Austria, but fortunately my Dad just missed it.
“Rugby matches get built up as battles, but it really does pale into insignificance compared to what these guys do. They are going out there and risking their lives for their countries – it’s pretty hard to describe. I don’t know what it’s like to face a life or death situation. It’s not only the physical, but also the psychological scars that affect you. That’s why I’m really looking forward to visiting some of the facilities that we are raising the money for and meeting some of these courageous soldiers. We can all find motivation and encouragement from these guys. We can’t take what they do too lightly.”
The switch of hemispheres has already made Kirwan a marked man in the Southern Hemisphere camp with Fitzpatrick branding his former colleague “a turn coat”.
“Sean Fitzpatrick has already called me a turn coat for being involved with the Northern Hemisphere team, but I’m looking forward to getting one over on Fitzty. It’s going to be a great game, there will be big name players and we will be playing a Barbarians style of rugby,” said Kirwan. “Fitzy’s got some big names in his squad. I’m just hoping that Joe Roff is past his best because he was a fantastic player for the Aussies. Justin Marshall will also be a handful – not only with his feet, but also with his mouth.
“I was with him during the World Cup. He’s a TV pundit now so at least he’s putting that mouth to good use. I will be putting my boys into these guys and I’m sure there will be plenty of banter with him on the pitch – it’s already getting started!
“There will be guys who have finished playing, guys that are up and coming and guys in the forces – it will be a fantastic occasion. Some soldiers are playing who had pretty good tournaments at the Military World Cup and I’m looking forward to working with those guys.
“I just hope everyone comes out and enjoys a day of celebration for the soldiers and knowing every cent is going into those people re-habbing after putting their lives on the line.
“I was speaking to Lawrence Dallaglio, one of our team managers, recently and he’s really excited. With the itinerary of rugby as it is today, it’s nice for us to find the time to give something back.”
This year’s fixture, which will mark the tenth anniversary of Armed Forces Operations in Afghanistan, promises to be an even bigger attraction than the first Help for Heroes match in 2008, when over 52,000 spectators helped raise £1.46m for Help for Heroes.
Heroes Rugby Challenge supported by J.P. Morgan, Saturday 3 December 2011 at Twickenham Stadium, kicks off at 1630. Ticket prices start at £15 for adults, £10 for under 16’s, and are available through Ticketmaster. For more information please visit: heroesrugby.org.uk