A lack of job security among the Chiefs' coaches may have been one factor in their unexpected Super Rugby Aotearoa implosion.
For the Chiefs to crash so hard in the competition – winless in all eight games – after performing with distinction before New Zealand's first lockdown (four wins from six matches, including a good one over the Blues at Eden Park in round one and an excellent one over the Crusaders in Hamilton a week later), suggests something was off and it can't all be blamed on mistakes by match officials.
A review, which is probably going on right now, will attempt to find out exactly what and draw a line under it, and a starting point should be the extraordinary decision to appoint former Wales coach Warren Gatland on a contract which allows him to take next season off to continue coaching the British and Irish Lions.
The details of Gatland's deal, gladly signed off by New Zealand Rugby, have been well publicised but less well-known is the extent of the franchise's rebuilding job next year under new coach Clayton McMillan because it's understood current assistants Tabai Matson and Neil Barnes will not be assisting him.
That means the Chiefs' three most senior coaches were working in the knowledge that this will be their last season with the franchise before a relatively big life change. Gatland intends to come back for the 2022 season and beyond, a potentially awkward arrangement if McMillan has a successful 2021 in his absence, but Matson and Barnes will be potentially looking for jobs and possibly overseas, an extremely challenging task with the world in the midst of a pandemic.
With Europe continuing to struggle to get a grip on Covid-19, Japan is probably the only overseas option for top Kiwi rugby coaches, and even Gatland must be feeling a touch of anxiety given the state of the world, particularly in South Africa where the Lions are scheduled to play three tests and five other matches in July and August next year. As of Thursday, more than 565,000 Covid-19 cases had been confirmed there, along with more than 11,000 deaths.
It is easy to draw comparisons with the Crusaders and their head coach Scott Robertson, who has an unprecedented success rate – four Super titles in a row – and is secure in the knowledge he is likely to remain in Christchurch until the end of 2023 .
But the vastly improved Blues also appear extremely settled in terms of their coaching personnel, with Leon MacDonald having just completed his second year of a three-year deal - and surely likely to be offered (and accept) an extension, and the Hurricanes, after an uncertain start, impressed under their new head coach Jason Holland, in his first year after replacing John Plumtree, who left to assist Ian Foster at the All Blacks.
Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger, in charge of a side who struggled with a lack of depth this year, is in the final year of his contract.
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The Highlanders have won only two games out of seven in Super Rugby Aotearoa, and it remains to be seen whether they will play an eighth – against the Hurricanes in Dunedin on Saturday – given the latest lockdown restrictions in New Zealand, but he and Tony Brown showed enough to suggest they will be given extra time at the franchise. The resurgence in form of Aaron Smith alone suggests something good is happening in the deep south.
Settled teams are usually happy teams, and happy teams are usually winners. It's here that the Chiefs hierarchy should begin their review and perhaps take responsibility.