Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Exodus of coaching talent the real concern

Mark Anscombe. Photo / Getty Images
Mark Anscombe. Photo / Getty Images

Retaining coaches is proving to be a tougher battle than keeping players and the consequences of losing the best are likely to be more damaging longer term.

In a mixed week on the coaching front, Wayne Smith committed to the Chiefs and Canterbury's Rob Penney opted for Munster.

Intellectual capital is flying out the door and the number of major coaching positions in Europe held by Kiwis is staggering.

Of the eight Heineken Cup quarter-finalists, four are or will be coached by New Zealanders.

Joe Schmidt is with Leinster (finalist) and Mark Anscombe will join Ulster (finalist) in July.

Vern Cotter's Clermont were beaten in the semifinals and Munster, surprisingly beaten in the quarter-finals, will soon welcome Penney.

Then there is Warren Gatland with Wales - the hottest property in the Northern Hemisphere international game.

New Zealand coaches are making better players throughout Europe.

Their influence is significant and tangible and real effects could be felt in June.

Nowhere is the Kiwi coaching influence so widespread as Ireland - where next year, three of their four provincial sides will be coached by New Zealanders.

Irish rugby is benefitting from that knowledge, vision and technical expertise. In 2010, a Leinster-laden Irish backline caused the All Blacks any number of problems in the first half of their November test.

It was the Irish backs who ran the sharpest angles and had the crisper passing and their use of space and width was better as well.

They had confidence and belief - qualities they no doubt forged by being part of a Kiwi-style culture to be expressive and expansive. How long before Anscombe makes an impact at Ulster, teaching the forwards about relentless aggression and giving them lower, more dynamic body positions?

Penney will not take long to impose the same holistic culture of excellence that enabled Canterbury to win four straight provincial titles on his watch.

Just how good the Irish are will be seen in June and certainly one test win is not beyond them.

Such an outcome would surely force the New Zealand Rugby Union to question whether it's currently doing all it can to keep the best coaches here. Penney's situation typified the key problem that exists for aspiring coaches in New Zealand - there simply aren't enough genuinely challenging posts.

Once a coach has proven himself at provincial level, Super Rugby is the next jump but coaching teams are small and structured on obviously hierarchical lines.

The Chiefs have been a revelation this season and part of that is down to them finding room for former All Black coach Wayne Smith.

With bigger squads and micro detail making all the difference, three full-time coaches would now appear to be a minimum, yet some franchises, such as the Blues and Highlanders, are operating with just two and a handful of part-time specialists.

Executive teams across the country tend to prioritise their finances on the playing squad - leaving the bare minimum for coaches.

The NZRU has also been guilty in the past of being excessively lenient with incumbent head coaches who haven't necessarily delivered.

Much of that is due to the beloved review system which can often deliver a different picture to the one shown by the final competition table.

It's easy to see why there is concern about so many players heading to Europe but that concern about the coaching exodus should possibly be greater. Players don't normally change cultures and habits of those around them. They don't improve wider playing patterns or instil higher professional standards. Coaches do.

- Herald on Sunday

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