COMMENT

In 2007 New Zealand Rugby made what turned out to be an inspired decision to retain the All Blacks coaching panel after they presided over a disastrous World Cup campaign.

It was a decision that went against the prevailing mood. It went against the prevailing culture, too, as previously there had barely been a second thought given to the fate of All Blacks coaches who didn't win the World Cup.

There was a sort of French revolution vibe following World Cups – the baying crowd eager to see heads roll and the administration eager to give the people what they wanted.

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So when the guillotine didn't fall in 2007, the anger at being denied what was seen as a national rite made way for shock that NZR was willing to try something different.

And different eventually proved to be better and a decision that so many immediately said was wrong, is universally now acclaimed to have been right and to be the key reason the All Blacks have dominated world rugby since 2009.

By being patient NZR provided Graham Henry and his coaching team the longevity they needed to learn from their mistakes.

By being patient, NZR also retained Henry's then assistant Steve Hansen and provided him with the pathway he needed to graduate to the top job in 2012 and become the most successful coach of the modern era.

But having had so much success by being patient, NZR has seemingly convinced itself that it must now always take its time with coaches and that every appointment will come good if they are given the chance to do so.

There is something to be admired about that, not least that it creates a sense of confidence for the various coaching teams and allows them to plan as much for the medium and longer term as it does the short term.

Because there is a collective assurance that the coaching team are almost certainly going to be around for the duration of their contracts, it helps foster positive mindsets where teams are encouraged to be expressive, bold and creative rather than wary, conservative and reticent.

Steve Hansen was one of the benefactors of NZ Rugby's patience. Photo / Photosport
Steve Hansen was one of the benefactors of NZ Rugby's patience. Photo / Photosport

High performance teams don't function if they are riddled with fear and anxiety.

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But high performance teams also can't operate in a world of complacency and security and while NZR stole a march on everyone else 12 years ago with its shift to seeing failure as an opportunity to grow, it has perhaps gone too far in believing this approach must exclusively be taken.

No coach in New Zealand has been fired mid-season or even mid-contract, but being patient has not always brought improved results.

The Blues stuck with John Kirwan for three years when there was a strong body of evidence that says they should have bumped him after two.

His third season was an unprecedented disaster and did untold damage to the reputation of the club as they slumped to 14th with just three wins.

The Hurricanes kept Mark Hammett in the top job for four years between 2011 and 2014 and wallowed mid-table.

They brought in Chris Boyd and John Plumtree in 2015 and made the final, before becoming champions in 2016.

Looking back, that change of regime should have been made earlier – the Hurricanes should have seen after two seasons that Hammett wasn't the right fit.

Always giving coaches more time hasn't always worked and perhaps NZR needs to be more flexible: have a preferred policy of being patient and supportive with coaches but not blindly wedded to it.

Sometimes it's obvious, or at least should be, that giving a struggling coaching group another year is simply going to deliver another disappointing campaign.

Also it has be realised that change of regime does not come with an inevitable bedding-in process.

Chiefs players dejected after conceding a try against the Crusaders. Photo / Getty
Chiefs players dejected after conceding a try against the Crusaders. Photo / Getty

To this point it is worth noting that Dave Rennie won his two titles with the Chiefs in his first and second years at the helm; Michael Cheika was in year two with the Waratahs when they won in 2014; Boyd was in year two when the Hurricanes were champions in 2016 and Scott Robertson has brought the Crusaders two titles in his first two years at the helm.

In some cases, giving a struggling coaching team even another few weeks is a bad idea.

Time can't fix everything and sometimes NZR will have to accept that however much they don't want to create a ruthless, knee-jerk world such as the one that exists in English and French club rugby, they do have to be prepared to intervene earlier when a coaching group is failing to deliver.

Which brings us to the Chiefs who sit without a win after four rounds, a points differential of minus 84 and the indignity of being well beaten by the Sunwolves.

They play the Hurricanes this week before flying to Pretoria and Buenos Aires and zero from four could quite easily become zero from seven and 2019 will be over for the Chiefs.

At which point NZR will have to determine whether retaining coach Colin Cooper for the third season of his contract is setting the club up for continued failure or whether having experienced an adverse season of this magnitude he, almost paradoxically, becomes the best man to turn the club around in 2020.

At the moment, given the growing murmurings of discontent between certain members of the coaching team and the lack of detail in the Chiefs' game, the balance has to be weighted against retaining Cooper.

At the moment there is no compelling reason to believe that giving him another season will be the right thing to do.

Patience in this case will most likely not be rewarded as a team that starts a season as badly as the Chiefs clearly has such fundamental issues that they are not going to be fixed by time, only a change of regime.