Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: World class expertise is snapped up by test rivals

Lions coach and Waikato boy Warren Gatland (left) meets the press. Photo / Getty Images
Lions coach and Waikato boy Warren Gatland (left) meets the press. Photo / Getty Images

It's no surprise New Zealand is pick-pocketed by so many rivals - by the World Cup, five of the top 10 nations will likely be coached by Kiwis.

There will be, if he survives, Robbie Deans at the Wallabies; Warren Gatland at Wales; Joe Schmidt at Ireland and, according to speculation in Edinburgh, Vern Cotter at Scotland. It wasn't that long ago that they worked here. In 2006, all of them, in one guise or another, were in Super Rugby posts.

There is the prospect, too, of Sir Graham Henry continuing his advisory role with the Pumas. Kieran Crowley most likely will still be with Canada, former Counties Manukau coach Milton Haig with Georgia and no doubt a few other Kiwis will be picked up between now and September 2015 in various assistant, consultant and technical roles.

It's not necessarily the direct loss of the coaching capital that hurts; there are emerging coaches in New Zealand ever ready to step up, and specific details, moves, techniques that those leaving take with them become obsolete in no time.

What hurts is the intimate knowledge of the talent base in New Zealand. Those who leave take with them fine details of the playing landscape. They know much about senior professionals, who is on the rise and who might soon emerge.

International rugby has long ceased to be an organic business of developing players from within. Every nation it seems, other than New Zealand, has a global perspective - a desire to comb the world for eligible players. Some have even created positions dedicated to acquisition and without doubt, New Zealand is the country most targeted.

Immigration patterns have much to do with that - this is a land, with strong colonial and Pacific links. It is rich with dual-eligible players.

Labour remains a critical commodity in test rugby. As All Black coach Steve Hansen said recently, world class players make all the difference. New Zealand, for whatever reasons, still tends to produce more players with innate rugby intelligence and ability.

It remains, even deep into the professional age, common for Kiwi coaches to pointedly allude to the gulf that exists between New Zealanders and everyone else. What is taken for granted in New Zealand might have to be coached repeatedly in other countries. The athletes in other leading nations are just as big, if not bigger, just as strong, if not stronger and just as fast - but, as a general rule, their rugby knowledge is not as advanced or as natural as their Kiwi counterparts. Their skills under pressure aren't as assured and that is why Kiwis coaching other international teams look for eligible players in New Zealand.

Gatland illustrated that perfectly when he picked Sean Maitland in his Lions squad. In truth, Maitland was a borderline selection having played quietly but accurately for Scotland in the Six Nations. There were others with longer or more impressive test histories such as Chris Ashton, Tim Visser and Craig Gilroy.

But the Waikato man went with the Waikato boy, because the coach knew what Maitland had been exposed to in his formative years.

The intensity of the recruitment will only increase. Every Tier One nation truly believes they can win the next World Cup - even Scotland have made it a strategic goal.

There are so many factors that will determine the outcome at the next tournament but everyone knows now that their cause will be hopeless if they don't get the right players.

- Herald on Sunday

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