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Comment & Analysis | Sport

Process of appointing coach is fundamentally flawed

Kidney-N
Kidney – likely to be in charge for the RWC in 2015?

SO what now then? There is the slimmest sliver of a chance that Kidney’s contract will be renewed, and there are two factors at play: the conservatism of the Union, and the two remaining opponents in the Six Nations.

Starting with the two opponents, the key variable in Deccie’s favour is that both will be in our pool at RWC15 in England — France and Italy. If Ireland produce a commanding (and winning) display against the French, and slap Italy down in the manner of, say, 2007, any conservative waverers on whatever amateur committee decides these things will have a stick to grab hold of, and argue that Kidney’s Ireland are, in fact, well-placed to do well in the next World Cup.

And it’s the amateur conservatism that is important here — for we must consider what happens next. If Deccie refuses to resign (and why should he?), he has a contract until the end of the season, meaning that the lamest of lame duck coaches could be taking Ireland on a development tour to North America. The likes of Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw and Luke Marshall — who will be on or close to the first team in RWC15 — will essentially have a wasted summer, in development terms.

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That Kidney badly wants to stay in the role is not in doubt. Forget his recent — and typical — unwillingness to give a straight answer to the question, and read between the lines of his actions instead.

Kidney’s current approach to selection and the captaincy has all the hallmarks of a man throwing money down in a casino, knowing he has little to lose. Having been wilfully conservative in matters of selection up until as recently as last summer, the 60-0 defeat in New Zealand appears to have flicked a switch in his head.

Now he’s changed the captain, thrown a 10 with place-kicking issues into an away test match for his debut, jettisoned Ronan O’Gara and persisted with media darling Craig Gilroy in spite of superior options being available — Luke Fitzgerald has a superior kicking and defensive game and is a good attacker, and Andrew Trimble is ahead in the Ulster pecking order due to his defence and workrate.

It looks like a slightly over-eager attempt to position himself as a forward-looking coach who has one eye on 2015, and therefore may just be the man to lead the team there. The trouble is none of it has worked so far.

What will happen in parallel? Will one of the Union’s amateur committees, and not the one who will be studying the recommendations of the professional review group (PRG, which has yet to meet) from last year, meet in the interim to decide who will be the manager from next season?

Or will they, like the English RFU, outsource the appointment to some expert group? If they don’t, can you imagine the top coaches, Vern Cotter or Fabien Galthie for example, explaining to a blazer how they plan to move forward with the team. Unlikely.

Appointment by those within means appointment from within, which means handing the reins to Mike Ruddock or Joe Schmidt. Ruddock has an under-20 RWC in June, and Schmidt has indicated next season will be his last in this hemisphere — neither is an easy transition, though the case for Schmidt is so strong as to be undeniable, and the Union should do everything it can to secure him for the role.

The path of least resistance actually seems to be to keep Kidney on, and hope for an upturn in performances — it’s stunning to think that such a lack of decisiveness might exist at the top of Irish professional rugby, but it’s not being run by professionals.

In fact, when we think about the process that is (probably) about to begin, it’s worth taking a step back and recalling the way the coaches of the Irish national side have been appointed since professionalism in 1995:

• Brian Ashton: chance phone call from his agent to Pat Whelan, hawking the “best coach in the world” — the Union took the bait, Murray Kidd was sent packing, and Ashton was given a SIX-YEAR contract. He stayed for one

• Warren Gatland: Gatty had spent time in Galway in the early 1990s, and he was flown over from NZ to coach Connacht after the Union balked at Eddie O’Sullivan’s request for contract stability. When Ashton was hastily disposed of, Gatty (one of only two provincial coaches in situ, a huge issue for Ashton) was promoted to the big gig

• Eddie O’Sullivan: Dagger joined Gatty’s team as attack coach in 2000, and the gradual improvement in performances was credited to the native rather than the Kiwi. After a(nother) November defeat to New Zealand, the Union changed ships — silverware followed

• Declan Kidney: Deccie was Eddie’s number two for a couple of seasons, but that was never going to work — that experience allowed him to press for his own coaching team, which delivered first time up. But Deccie himself only got the nod after a trawl of available Southern Hemisphere coaches revealed nought.

When we consider that the man (Whelan) who piloted the first appointment of the professional era, that of Ashton, is likely to be involved in the next one, we aren’t filled with confidence.

What should happen is the roles in-scope of a national coach should be defined, as should the targets and reporting structure (which should be to the director of rugby sanctioned by the PRG) — then a suitable candidate sought.

The entire process is fundamentally flawed — no one knows what Deccie’s job targets are, no one can say what the new coaches should be doing, and the edifice that has taken Irish rugby through the first generation of professional players is crumbling.
Right now, all work is still being conducted by amateurs — as well-meaning as they might be, it ain’t gonna work in this day and age.
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