Six Nations suits could pay for disregarding fans


And should our own Sir Percys still be picking or evaluating top coaches in this professional era?

IN 1988 ex-steelworker Harry Perkins “the simple minded fool” led his far left Labour Party into government but he was soon to become embroiled with Sir Percy and the senior civil servants, the hidden men in A Very British Coup. Perkins, like referee (Dave) Pearson, was exposed by those faceless men in suits.

Newton must have been thinking of Paris when he came up with his third law; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. What unfolded did bring a reaction from me, catching me by total surprise. As the seconds ticked by I began to feel sorry for the protagonists. Truth be told, I started feeling sorry for myself but then I realised I didn’t have to pen my piece for Monday morning! On this realisation I began to look deep into the crowd and feel their pain.

Less than 24 hours later I received an email from Dublin 7 stating: “I have attended 51 consecutive Ireland Six Nations games since 2001, that is every game every year home and away . . . but on a matter of principle I intend to break the sequence as I feel all travelling fans were shown how much they are truly valued; my protest may have little impact on the commercials of the modern game but it is the only form of protest available to me.”

The error I made was accepting the “cool” control the French appeared to have on the climate. To what extent the Six Nations requires bums on seats over sponsorship and TV is a matter for the number crunchers but the unions need to wake up to the pendulum that’s swinging away from the Six Nations to the provinces.

Irish people are looking for reasons to justify non-attendance and last Saturday is one such opportunity. What are the faceless men in suits in the IRFU going to do to soften the blow? Aren’t Heineken Cup teams fined if their venue is unplayable? Didn’t the FAI’s John Delaney and Sunderland’s Niall Quinn put their hands deep into their pockets for the fans?

Timing can be cruel but also kind so I wondered about Declan Kidney. But then I found myself wondering, why am I feeling sorry for Declan Kidney? After all he is a highly-decorated and very well-paid head of the pack whose role is to take the extremely successful franchises at provincial level, positively bursting at the seams with talent and winning culture and to blend those available assets into a winning combination.

The lull in play this week allows time to dwell on this point. Is Kidney maximising the assets available to him? Benchmark him to Wales and the answer is not really or even no.

It appears Ireland take years to move the ship in a new direction where both Australia and Wales can reinvent in a matter of short seasons. Look at Australia’s run into each RWC, generally spluttering from crisis to crisis, before a reinvention of the scrum or patterns and, hey presto, contenders again.

Warren Gatland has in a short space built on the natural Welsh culture of offloading to build a very potent force. In the meantime what have Ireland been doing?

Let’s start with Kidney’s coaching/management team, where there’s been much talk of Les Kiss. When I was in schools and club rugby, where Kidney’s journey began, the man who coached the attack and the defence was known as the coach. In that he was “the coach”. Others came in to aid him, such as the odd kicking, scrummaging or lineout session from a past player. They would provide the necessary focus and different voice that proved a welcome distraction. But the coach remained in charge of policy and this unfolded in the attack and defence sessions. Kiss (An extremely decorated and talented professional rugby man.) is the man tasked with defence and offence. Does this not then make him the coach?

If that be the case then what is Kidney’s role and is there confusion amongst the ranks?

With Harry Perkins in mind, I want to float to the level where these major decisions are being made. Who actually appoints the coaches at national and provincial levels and what indeed is their pedigree and process? But more importantly, what is their understanding of the professional game and the role of the coach therein?

Ulster’s rather harsh looking ousting of Brian McLaughlin is a good place to start, where a winning formula is judged insufficient. But Ulster’s director of rugby, David Humphreys, is perfectly placed to make, or at least guide the committee on, those decisions. With over 70 caps for Ireland his pedigree is not in doubt but that they spanned the amateur and professional days is crucial.

Humphreys retired from Ireland but six years ago and Ulster but four. He is the new elite along with Conor O’Shea that understand the requirements of any professional coach, speak their language and most importantly, are qualified to sit in judgment of their performance. Not just that as a professional himself, Humphreys is living and breathing Ulster rugby daily, mixing with the coaches, the players and the academies.

It’s been 17 years since 1995 but there’s not one former pro in the IRFU committee. In A Very British Coup, Sir Percy, born to the position, was wielding the axe. Who in the IRFU is sitting in Kidney’s judgment and are they qualified to pass judgement and source the new Kidney? The IRFU website is worth a visit to see the commonality of the names strewn throughout the committees. Let us for a moment suspend reality once more. What criteria and questions would the IRFU appointing committee, led by chairmen Finbarr Crowley or Martin O’Sullivan, ask of World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry to establish his suitability for the Irish job? Would they follow the FAI format and ask former pros close to the game (Ray Houghton etc) to source their man? In 2008, Neil Jackson, Pat Whelan and Noel Murphy were instrumental in Kidney’s nomination but also in Eddie O’Sullivan’s extension.

As Humphreys and his team-mate Mark McCall raised the European Cup aloft way back in 1999 immediately behind them in the stand were Irish and British and Irish Lions legend Noel “Noisy” Murphy.

He is an incredible rugby man and a massive asset to Irish rugby but is there space in the professional game for an amateur in assessing the performance of our Irish and provincial coaches and driving Ireland’s play forward over someone like Humphreys?

Connacht, for so long the fourth estate, are leading the way on a number of fronts. Obviously their underage game has flourished in recent times but it is the appointments that have been made almost stealthily that are worth watching. They have advertised for a new CEO and it’ll be very interesting to see who fills this role and how ambitious Connacht are in getting the next Conor O’Shea into the ranks.

The world of professional rugby is changing, and very fast. Are the Irish rugby team performing to their best and if not who judges them? The faceless men in suits!