What a weekend of rugby. I was glued to the television for the quarter final games, and they didn’t disappoint. Where did that Welsh team come from? They have flown right under the radar coming through the pool matches, and they look good. What a class act. They played as a unit, their defense was solid and they attacked with skill and precision. In fact I can see them in the final. But that’s still 13 days away and there are semi finals to be played first.
One statistic that hasn’t made too many headlines is the fact that 3 of the 4 coaches of the semi final teams are from New Zealand; the All Blacks coach – perhaps obviously – Graham Henry, Australia’s coach Robbie Deans and Wales’ coach Warren Gatland. This fact alone speaks volumes of the depth and quality of players and coaches that come out of New Zealand. None of them has had the prestigious honour of coaching the winning team of the Rugby World Cup. I’m so proud to be part of a small nation that really has taken ownership of this game, a game some say is the only game played in heaven – or maybe that’s just us Kiwi’s that say that?
That leaves the French coach, Marc Lievremont, who was a member of the French 1999 World Cup Squad which made the final after upsetting the All Blacks in the Semi’s. They lost to Australia that year, but he has experienced a final and is well placed to take his team through this year. The only thing in his way is Wales.
So just how much impact does a coach have on their team? And why do some coaches get more from there players than others? Perhaps Pat Riley, considered one of the best NBA coaches of all time sums it up with this quote, “To have long term success as a coach or in any position of leadership, you have to be obsessed in some way.” Some see obsession as negative, I see it as a way of identifying the finer details that make the difference, and it’s this detail that sets the great coaches apart from all the others.
There will be winners and losers this weekend, the winning coaches will keep their job for at least one more week and the losing coaches will either step down gracefully or be sacked. This seems to be the rule of thumb when a team is knocked out of the World Cup. Unless of course your name is Graham Henry and you get a second chance. After the All Blacks worst placing at a World Cup losing to the French in the Quarter Final in 2007, the only year they have never been in the top 4, Henry was reinstated as coach for a further 2 years, which was then extended by a further 2, giving him another shot at the elusive Webb Ellis trophy.
So Mr Henry, from one who was calling for your head in 2007 and supporting Robbie Deans to be named in your place, please don’t disappoint. Us All Black supporters have been extremely patient waiting for New Zealand to be engraved on the World Cup for a second time. There is no better time to do it than right now, this year, in our own country, on a ground that has been kind to the All Blacks for many many matches. Here’s hoping the Eden Park luck is enough to keep the chokers at bay. For the next 2 games anyway.