All professional coaches live and die by results, but the UK and European rugby scene is much more ruthless than any domestic New Zealand post.

This is a world dominated by, and increasingly comparable to, football after all; a world where rich and powerful owners hold little semblance of patience or persistence.

Chris Boyd arrived at Northampton believing he had a firm grasp of these new cut-throat surroundings.

And, yet, eyes were immediately prised open to the unforgiving climate when Leicester Tigers sacked Australian Matt O'Connor after one defeat to start Premiership Rugby's 2018/19 season.


Much more than vast distance travelled, O'Connor's axing revealed just how far removed Boyd is from his home progression through Tawa in Wellington, the New Zealand under-20s, and the Hurricanes.

"I can't understand how a board can have an opinion of somebody and then after one week it changes significantly enough that they need to act," Boyd says. "With due respect to Matt, he was probably a dead man walking. They were probably just waiting to get the opportunity.

"If they felt like that, I don't understand why they didn't act like that in the offseason."

As with anybody responsible for leading any high performance programme, by now Boyd is well aware expectations rest on him and him alone.

As director of rugby, he was hired to deliver more than oust predecessor Jim Mallinder's final three seasons which finished outside the playoffs after a decade-long term that brought one Premiership title.

Other than Ireland, where a similar system to New Zealand's centrally-run model is now embedded and thriving, pro rugby clubs throughout Europe don't share the same long-term, holistic approach to development.

For the most part, they just demand results.

"It's a ruthless place," Boyd nods. "If you get it right it's great, and if you don't then you go and that's how it is.

"I 100 per cent agree with it - that's the nature of the beast. There's a demand here for performance. We're employed by our clubs which are often owned by private individuals where often in New Zealand we're employed by NZ Rugby."

Chris Boyd:
Chris Boyd: "It's a ruthless place." Photo / Getty

In such a contrasting coaching landscape Boyd understands his three-year contract guarantees nothing, though he is fortunate to sit on the Northampton board and is, therefore, less likely to be blindsided in the same brutal manner as O'Connor.

"If I'm spectacularly unsuccessful here and I go that's because I haven't got the results that I was employed to get and I understand that so be it.

"A contract protects you from things you can't control around the whims of boards and owners.

"If you want security you'd never be a rugby coach."

Shortlisted to succeed Wales coach Warren Gatland alongside fellow Kiwis Dave Rennie and Wayne Pivac, who eventually got the nod, Boyd struck a deal with Northampton for several reasons.

His four-year term at the Hurricanes, where he delivered the franchise's first title, one other failed final and two semis, ended due to a unique handshake agreement with assistant John Plumtree.

Much like a New Zealand player nearing the end of their career – he says this will be his last or second last coaching position – Boyd could either go to Japan or England as he does not speak French.

"I love the Japanese culture but I hadn't satisfied the rugby itch and you very seldom come back a better player or coach from Japan."

He and wife Linda lived in London for a good chunk of the '80s and now travel the hour or so into the bustling city for cultural excursions, when rugby commitments allow.

With both sets of grandparents born in the UK, the identification was there and so the Premiership held appeal.

Boyd also visited Northampton when Wayne Smith held the reins in 2004 and, so, knew its roots as a well-supported rugby town.

On a crisp winter meeting at the club's Franklin Garden's base, the 60-year-old cuts a typically relaxed figure despite his side sitting 10th – two spots off the bottom – with three wins from nine Premiership matches.

Over the past three months Boyd has attempted to add multi-dimensional decision-making to the Saints, empowering them to be optimistic risk takers.

But in combination with his assistants and Welsh playmaker Dan Biggar, he admits they are still searching for the sweet spot balance to their game.

Saints are certainly not comfortable in their own skin yet.

"Many parts of the Northern Hemisphere would struggle with the pace and openness of the game in the south and many Super Rugby players come here and struggle with the ruthless grind of the contact; at set piece, at the breakdown, territorial based games based around contact.

"They're definitely different games and that's what makes it really interesting when the north plays the south and you get the contrast of styles."

Bath's head coach Todd Blackadder with Northampton Saints' Chris Boyd. Photo / Getty
Bath's head coach Todd Blackadder with Northampton Saints' Chris Boyd. Photo / Getty

Not winning regularly enough at present, Boyd is already staring down the fearsome and foreign prospect of relegation, one with far more serious ramifications than merely bouncing between Mitre 10 Cup divisions and nothing really changing.

In this case, the livelihood and competitiveness of clubs rests heavily on survival each year. No topflight test talent wants to slug away on boggy winter grounds in the Championship.

This scenario is not dissimilar to football, where teams joyously celebrate avoiding the dreaded guillotine.

With four points separating six teams – from Todd Blackadder's sixth-placed Bath to Newcastle in 12th – the tight nature of this season has sparked widespread pushback from clubs about the need to do away with relegation.

Now breathing it every day, Boyd says the model only serves to impose a negative mindset and limit chances to grow emerging talent.

"That's a real big axe that hangs over the head of everybody here. Personally I think relegation is counterproductive to development.

"I don't get involved in the politics but I would be surprised if in three or even two years there's a relegation component.

"It doesn't make sense to me but at the end of the day the people that make those decisions may have different agendas – they may not be rugby coaches looking for the development of rugby there might be financial or geographical considerations or other constraints that dictate that decision and we just live with it."

Not even the argument that it helps retain fan interest is deemed relevant enough.

"That's right for the mercenary but supporters would rather come and watch two teams playing without fear of relegation, trying really hard to be positive around playing the game than slugging it out in a way that only stops you being relegated."

With 13 rounds still to play this season the picture will, undoubtedly, alter a number of times yet.

Boyd has plenty of time to conjure the sweet spot game plan he continues to seek and evoke a turnaround.

Around these parts, though, there is no room for ambiguity. No honeymoon ever lasts forever.

Soon enough, Boyd knows he and his team will live and die by results.