GHANA IN THE BRONX – We’re heading towards the playoffs and the end of the club/provincial season and in the coming weeks our focus will turn to the summer tours. But before we turn the page on the 2011/2012 domestic season, let’s look at some coaches that will be on the move.
Apologies to all if these moves seem to have a Kiwi weight to them. I assure you, I am not Kiwi. But NZ are the spiritual guardians of the game. As such they export players to many countries and affect the standings of loads of domestic teams and standings of many rugby nations. After players, the next thing they export are… coaches. Indeed, 3 of the final 4 teams at last year’s Rugby World Cup were coached by Kiwis. On the domestic level the coaching staff of the Top 4 teams in any table for the domestic season for 6N/3N teams has a Kiwi. It is not a bias, it is just the cold hard truth.
Coach… Name… From… To:
Mark Anscombe – Auckland NPC – Ulster
Mr. Anscombe is moving north after cutting his teeth in the cauldron of NZ rugby. He coached the Auckland Province to very reputable finishes in the National Provincial Championship (4th, 5th and 4th) or as NZ version of home depot sponsor ITM would have you call it the ITM Cup. Besides his moderate success with the young Auckland side, Anscombe won the 2011 U20 Junior World Cup, which is the main young coach developer of the NZRU. His position at Ulster will be an awkward start as he accepted the position mid-season with plans to start at the beginning of the fall 2012 season. Since his appointment Ulster have gone on an impressive run and are now in the Heineken Cup Final. The current head coach Brian McLaughlin will step down and take over the academy to make way for Anscombe. Instead of a rebuilding job, he will be asked to improve consistency in the Rabodirect 12 leave and take the side from strength to strength.
Rob Penney – Cantebury NPC – Munster
With all due respect to friend of the show, Todd Blackadder, it is a travesty that Penney was not given the chance to coach the Crusaders. Not to mention, how Crusader asst. Coach Mark Hammett was promoted to Head Coach of the S15 Hurricanes before Penney. Conspiracy theories claim that Penney is good friends with Robbie Deans, former Canterbury and Crusaders coach and current Australia head coach. Deans and the head of the NZRU Steve Tew are mortal enemies and therefore there was no way he would ever promote Penney. Now with leaving for Munster, Tew can claim, he would have promoted him, if he had stuck around. Anyway, enough of the gossip, Penney’s challenge at Munster will be to revitalize a province filled with players losing the fight against Father time. This includes the retired David Wallace, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes and the aging Paul O’Connell. He will have to nurture coming of age players Peter O’Mahony and Donncha Ryan as well as young talent in Simon Zebo, Keith Earls and Connor Murray. This is a re-building Job with potential to be a re-loading for Munster.
Pat Lam – S15 Blues – TBD
In a move that had been awaited all season by S15 Blues fans, Pat Lam has announced he will be stepping down at the end of this season. After finishing 9th, 7th and 4th over the last 3 years, the Blues are miserable 1-10 this season and it appears that Lam is cooked. Though supported still by Blues General Manager Andy Dalton (coincidentally Dalton was unhappy with Anscombe’s results and let his contract expire), Lam has seen the writing on the wall. It is not that Lam is necessarily a poor coach or out of his depth, it is just the nature of the beast sometimes. The team plays poorly and shake up is needed. I disagreed with Lam’s tactics, selections and his style of coaching this season as the team seemed without direction, focus and unable to perform fundamentals in passing and handling. Maybe the voice got stall or maybe it really was the players, either way Lam will not be back in a head coaching capacity next season, he may be an adviser to the new coach or he may take one of the many coaching positions available in the Europe, time will tell.
John Mitchell – S15 Lions – CC LionsCoach John Mitchell’s position is tough to describe but essentially he is being demoted. Not just him, however, but the whole franchise of the S15 Lions. The South Africa Rugby Union has decided to create a franchise in the Eastern Province and make them a Super 15 side, in order to do so they must drop one of the current super 15 sides. The odds-on favorite to be dropped are the Lions because of the side’s inability to finish above the bottom 3 throughout the history of Super Rugby. The S15 Lions could also end up merged with the S15 Cheetahs, their brothers in the bottom 3 throughout the history of Super Rugby. Either way, Mitchell will not be coaching the S15 side or the combined S15 Lions/Cheetahs. He will retain his post as head coach of the defending Currie Cup Champion Golden Lions. His success with them led many pundits including yours truly to expect a rather strong and positive season from the Lions, but that turned out to be fool’s gold. No matter what happens a coach of Mitchell’s caliber will be able to find work.
Speaking of work, play hooky for a few minutes and share your thoughts below – even if it’s not necessarily related to the coaching changes. We love any and all rugby talk here. Plus, our sponsors like to see comments… Wink, wink.
Regardless, remember to stay low and keep pumping those legs!