West Ghana, Bronx –Last week we looked at coaches affecting domestic tables. This week we look at international coaching… debutantes. Okay, so calling these coaches debutantes is a bit much but I assure you, all eyes will be on these 4 men as they introduce themselves as Head Coaches on the world Rugby stage.
1) Stuart Lancaster, England– So, this not his coming out party. He already had it during the Six Nations. But this is his first time he will lead the National team out as the Head Coach – no interim tag. He will also be leading his first tour as well, as the English team heads for an unprecedented (in the pro era) 5-match (including 3 tests), tour of South Africa. This tour will see if Lancaster can build on his 6N success and develop some depth. Fans want to see how he handles the young talent and how flexible he is regarding when a player is ready to earn a test cap.
2) Heyneke Meyer, South Africa– The time has now come, Mr. Meyer: Who will be your captain? How many from RWC 2012 will you get rid off? Will you show your Bulls Provincial bias? Will you give Youth a chance? Class, Experience or Form, what matters most? SA fans are fanatical, deeply biased by province and all think they should be coaching. It is a dream job for any SA coach, but it can turn into a nightmare in a hurry by losing a test series against England.
3) Steve Hansen, New Zealand– Take all that was said about Heyneke and add this little bit: Hansen is following Sir Graham Henry. Henry is the retired Head Coach of New Zealand whose winning of the RWC 2012 earned him a knighthood and the Sir prefix to his name. Hansen was Henry’s top assistant for 8 years so it will not be new to him, but any coach will tell you the move just one chair over, is worlds apart. Hansen does have the fortune of starting out against Ireland. That’s fortunate because Declan Kidney can’t coach a team to pour water into a glass. Granted, Ireland are not on New Zealand’s level talent-wise, nor have their key players have had any real rest since the RWC. However, Kiwi fans are sharp and will look to see how Hansen selects players and builds his team. Winning will not be enough… How they win will be the key.
4) Rob Howley, Wales– If Lancaster is a ringer, then Howley is the direct opposite. Howley is the interim head coach of Wales. He is taking over for the next 6-9 months from Warren Gatland. Gatland shattered the heel bones in both his feet (I know, I didn’t know one could do that either) while working on his house back home in NZ. You would think a man making good coin would hire a contractor but nothing like do-it-Yourself work, eh Warren. This inadvertently sets up Wales for the long term rather nicely. Howley gets the feel of sitting in the big chair and understanding the responsibilities of it without the pressure. This way he will know what to improve on when Gatland returns. When Gatland eventually steps down for good, Howley will be more than prepared to take the reigns. Howley’s challenges will be the same as the other men on this page. He must respect class, reward form, build depth, develop and evaluate young talent. He has proven his ability to get a backline firing as coach (as a player he had the sweetest pass from a ruck in the pro era and definitely got a backline firing), so know he must get the whole team to fire on all pistons.
It will be a long hot and interesting season of International rugby and summer tours. My only advice to these coaches – not that they need or asked for it – is stay low and keep pumping those legs. The same advice extends to you our readers. Please share your thoughts below.