Opinion: Coaching 'easy' part for Kirwan
Wed, 18 Jul 2012 11:09a.m.
By Jim Kayes
Sir John Kirwan will find that coaching the Blues is the easy part of his job. Dealing with the politics, administrative interference, and the public and media pressure will be much tougher – as will attracting fresh talent to the Blues so they can field a competitive team next year.
At least Kirwan is well equipped for the task. As a parent he’s had plenty of practice dealing with petty squabbles and childish attempts at one-up-man ship. As an All Blacks great he knows what is takes to succeed – especially in Auckland where the politics makes the Beehive look tame. He’s also shown amazing dignity, humility, courage and strength to go public with his battles with depression in a country and a sport where such issues were traditionally seen as a weakness. Those same character traits will help Kirwan in his attempts to resurrect a fallen franchise and to turn what many see as a poisoned chalice into what he believes will be a golden one.
Pat Lam said it best when he revealed that his happiest time as Blues coach was while the team was in South Africa. Then he was free of the politics, free of the second guessing and undermining by some of those in power at the Blues, free from the idiotic pre-match reminders by administrators that playing the Crusaders was “a big game”, free of the phone calls from well meaning friends or acquaintances telling him what was wrong with the Blues and what should be done to fix them. In South Africa he was a coach – just a coach.
Lam always felt he didn’t have a free rein when selecting his squad and that powerful figures on the board, or within the old boys network of Auckland rugby, had sway and say. He also knows sensible advice was often overlooked by myopic administrators, who thought they knew best. Last year Auckland were told by Mark Anscombe – the New Zealand under 20 coach who was also Auckland’s coach - to recruit Brodie Retallick. The power brokers replied that there were enough locks already in the region.
Kirwan will inherit much of his squad because that’s the way of professional rugby where contracts can extend for two, three or four years. He will also see some players he wishes were staying, heading out the door, most notably Jerome Kaino and Isia Toeava who are off to Japan. And he will have to decide what to do with Piri Weepu and Ma’a Nonu. He’s sure to want to retain them both because – this tortured season aside – they are proven first class performers and Kirwan’s Blues may be short of those.
Kirwan will also have to start planning for the future because the outstanding Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock have more playing days behind them, than ahead. Kirwan’s right when he says Auckland is a huge producer of talented rugby players, but he was also right when he acknowledged too many of those players were heading to other franchises or NRL league clubs – or simply quitting the sport. So he needs to adopt the policy David White and Graham Mourie had when they took over what was a dismal Wellington union in the late 1990s – recruit, retain, and develop. For now the recruitment part of that triangle could be the toughest challenge because at the moment, who would want to play for the Blues?
Part of what’s needed to change that mindset is consistent performance on the field – and part of that will come from a team of “good buggers” – as Dave Rennie said when asked to describe his key selection criteria. Rennie wanted players who were prepared to work hard, to graft, and who fitted in to the concept of being in a team. Big egos could look elsewhere.
For too long Blues and Auckland players seem to have taken their status for granted. Auckland were a terrific team in the late 1980s and through to the 1990s and the early Blues sides reflected that with titles in 1996 and 1997, and a defeat in the final in 1998. But the new generation of players coming through then seemed to take success and celebrity as part of the package that went with getting the team tracksuit. They were stars in their own minds and average players on the field – and for some reason, despite years of failure at the Blues, too many of their muster still seem to think they are better than they are.
Kirwan was a key part of the magnificent Auckland side from the 1980s and knows that it took hard work to be that good. His own life is a reflection of that. He’s a butcher’s apprentice from South Auckland who now speaks English, Italian and Japanese fluently. He’s a happily married father who has publicly overcome depression. He is a great player who has gone on to forge a lengthy career as an international coach. All the bits that make up the reasons why John Kirwan is now Sir John Kirwan are what could make him a success at the Blues. But as Lam well knows, JK needs to be given the space to succeed.
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18/07/2012 2:15:50 p.m.
This will make the blues a better side. Having someone who has come through the ranks with pride in the jersey
18/07/2012 1:44:38 p.m.
Congrats John Kirwan!!!!!!!! They have picked a good man for a hard job!!!!Maybe the AB's will be your next step once you have fininshed here??
18/07/2012 11:56:59 a.m.
Plus 5 wrote:
GREAT ARTICLE, if this is the frame work for the blues going forward, including management, then there is hope and maybe I will give JK the benefit of the doubt.....otherwise it will be the biggest case of window dressing seen outside Amsterdam for ages........
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