Eddie, welcome to the list of the Irish coaching damned
And then there were none. No Irish born provincial head coach in the country. Pat Lam (NZ) and Billy Millard (Aus) are in Connacht. Rob Penny (NZ) and Steve Mannix (NZ) are in Munster. Joe Schmidt (NZ,) Jonno Gibbs (NZ) and Greg Feek (NZ) in Leinster. Steve Anscombe (NZ) in Ulster.
The only Irish presence that remains are senior assistant coaches Anthony Foley in Munster and Neil Doak in Ulster.
There is no doubt that in the past 15 years Irish rugby has benefited greatly from overseas coaches. Warren Gatland, Michael Cheika, Alan Gaffney, Joe Schmidt, Les Kiss and Gert Small are all wonderful coaches who have enhanced Irish Rugby.
It is rarely mentioned that during the same period indigenous coaches Harry Williams and Declan Kidney won Heineken Cups and Brian McLaughlin took Ulster to a final. During the same period Niall O’Donovan, Willie Anderson, Mark McCall and Roly Meates were part of the intellectual think tanks that contributed to winning Heineken Cups and Celtic League titles across three provinces.
It is to Irish rugby’s great loss that, with the exception of Brian and Declan, these excellent rugby minds have no avenue through which to pass on their encyclopaedic knowledge to future generations.
In Irish rugby at that time there was a healthy balance between indigenous and non-indigenous coaches. Today that balance is gone.
With the exception of Alan Gaffney and the great Rugby League defensive coach Peter Sharpe, every member of the management teams I employed at Leinster and Ulster were Irish. I felt it was incumbent on me to give my knowledge to the Irish system so indigenous coaches could develop. I hoped they in turn would pass on their wisdom to future generations of players and coaches.
Whether the recent decisions to not employ indigenous coaches is a policy or simply a series of random events is irrelevant. The ramification is that there are no opportunities for local talent to develop so there will be few, if any, Irish -born professional coaches in the years to come. While Irish rugby is giving considerable support to reducing New Zealand’s chronic unemployment problem, it is denying a generation of its own coaching community an opportunity.
This conversation was precipitated by Connacht not granting Eddie O’Sullivan an interview and appointing Pat Lam as head coach.
I am in a unique position. I worked with both Eddie and Pat. Eddie and I are not best buddies. We are competitors.
In 2001 Warren Gatland asked me to coach the national team’s defence during the Six Nations games postponed due to the foot and mouth crisis, as well as a match against New Zealand.
Day one, Eddie made it clear he did not want me around. He later said that he disagreed with my defensive systems. I find that hard to fathom because, when I arrived there were no defensive systems. With Eddie, I was as popular as the rats under the house.