Covid-19 is not only affecting the player transfer market in rugby. We talk to four coaches looking for their next gig
The uncertainty facing out-of-work rugby coaches
Despite it only recently going public that he will not remain with Racing 92 to oversee their defence, Chris Masoe is philosphical about his coaching future. The former All Black just hopes that, outside of his network, word gets out about his hunger to hone his craft.
“There’s a lot of talk about signing players and recruitment there, but it does affect coaching too,” Masoe tells Rugby World of the coronavirus-affected job market.
“At that moment I got told they’re not going to renew my contract, it was tough. It’s tough times, man, but at the end of the day I wanna stay in the game and build something. To be a successful team, you’ve got to get to know your players.
“The thing that’s really disappointing about leaving Racing like this, it was the first time I’d been in charge of a defence system and I’d got to get to know the players really well. That’s the main thing for me, we got the system going and everyone was buying into it…
“But what can you do – every club has been affected (by Covid-19), all businesses, the whole world. It’s something we can’t control and something we have to deal with.”
It shocked some in France when it was revealed that while Masoe would leave Racing, the inexperienced Dimitri Szarzewski would be taking up a role with the club’s coaching group. However, there is fear that we will see less movement in the coming months.
We know that the transfer market for playing talent is getting harder to negotiate as rugby tightens its belt, mid-pandemic. Inevitably it is the same for coaches, and while done deals are being honoured all over the game and some clubs are in such desperate need of change that no global crisis can slow them – just look at Leicester Tigers – there is a sense that uncertainty means many other groups are growing risk-averse.
“I think whoever clubs have got now, is just whoever they’ve got!” says Nathan Hines with a wry laugh. The former Scotland and Lions lock is parting ways with Montpellier after serving as forwards coach. “So with the market (now), everyone’s just a bit more tentative about spending more money than they have got. And they also don’t know what the landscape will look like afterwards. So I think everyone’s a little more gun shy.
“It’s like that everywhere. Everyone is just scared to commit to something in case it gets worse or funding gets cut, so everyone’s sort of in a holding pattern to see what happens next, until rugby comes back and what the financial landscape is, the responses and ticket sales. It’s a period of adaptation really and for players, coaches, anyone looking to transition clubs, it’s just a timing issue.
“I wouldn’t have stayed anyway (in Montpellier, once his contract ran out in June). So I was looking to get to move. But, you know, it’s a little bit more difficult when the hatches are down! You know, you’re knocking on the door but you can’t get in!”
Hines, too, is understanding of the global crisis facing the game. And since leaving Australia at 21 to see where rugby could take him he has never had any issue with pursuing opportunities farther afield.
What he won’t do is jump at anything part-time. In the perfect world the Hines family would end up somewhere where English is the first language or there is a good standard of English-language schools available – daughter Chloe, seven, is both dyslexic and dyspraxic and negotiating two languages has been tough. He jokes that his kids will always hanker for a return to Scotland.
By the same token, though, Hines is also willing to wait for the right job, saying he wants to work with “the right people” on a project he can buy into. “It’s a waiting game really, isn’t it. But you want something you can really get into.”
Masoe says that he has coped well since the initial disappointment of losing his Racing role, with time at home with his family showing him the positive side.
Related: The life of a journeyman
The former back-row wants to pay his dues as he progresses from role to role, and is keen to learn – he has previously spent time in Japan trying to soak up the expertise of Wayne Smith and he is open to travelling afar for roles. He explains: “There are not many jobs going around in New Zealand, and as you know there are a lot of great coaches in New Zealand.
“I want to stay in the game and do something I love. I’d go anywhere in the world now, you know, not just in France, but in the UK or in America. They really started (working hard on) this competition (Major League Rugby), you know.
“Whatever the opportunity is man, I will take it with two hands and try to learn as much as I can, wherever it is.”
Former Nottingham and England U20 boss Martin Haag wonders if some clubs might have made big coaching changes if the rugby calendar had run its course and we had seen some sides crash, late on – but understandably, coronavirus scuppered the season. The easier option now is to stick to what you know. But he had also seen a shift in the coaching landscape before any pandemic hit.
“I think the situation with coaching anyway, irrespective of coronavirus, it seems to be a bit of a closed shop. You have to be with the right agent. They then tend to bring in people they’ve worked with before – though there’s nothing wrong with that – or what you’re finding is ex-players are going straight into coaching a first team.
“And so even though we’re in a desperate situation, I think there were very few opportunities around. And unless you have the right agent who can get you in there. All of the guys that you (Rugby World) are talking to, they are all good coaches and they all have good qualities. They’re just looking for the right opportunity to come along.
“Once upon a time, I think it might have been Eddie Jones or somebody like it said, ‘If you’re a good coach, you are never out of work.’ Well, there are a lot of good coaches around that I’ve seen on my travels who just don’t have the opportunities because we don’t have enough jobs to go around.”
Now working for a company called Transition 15 as a performance director, Haag is also actively looking for coaching roles and would happily move into a performance head job in other sports. But it is finding that opportunity.
Masoe reckons that we will see more and more clubs losing specialist coaches and asking forwards or backs coaches to take on more work, looking after the breakdown, set-piece, defence, kicking or other skills. As a byproduct of cost-cutting, the generalists may thrive. For Haag, this shows the value of experience.
“People will probably be asked to multitask,” agrees Nick Walshe, who left his post as Coventry head coach in February. “And yeah, I think squads are probably going to be a little bit smaller because people are going to (look to more) utility players.
“I think there will be a little bit of that, especially in the short-term. I think once things get back to normal, hopefully in a year or however long it takes, when clubs from all walks of life see rugby get back to some financial security and comfort, you might you might see it expanding again.
“You have got to remain philosophical and you’ve got to just wait. I think it is a bit of a waiting game.”
One of the big positives Walshe sees in this time is having the ability to slow down and assess, to review your skills, do more reading, talk to more like-minded people online and consider how you approach gameplan, skill acquisition and management. It is possible to upskill, he says, something that can become harder when you are in the tumble dryer-like cycle of going from game week to game week.
He is certain the right gig will come along for him. All four coaches are waiting for the right shot, in the right place, at the right time. The collective positivity is both evident and admirable.
How bountiful will the opportunities be in the coming months?
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