23 Sep

Smith Forces NZRFU Hand
by Paul Waite
23 Sep 2001

In a move which was totally unexpected by the NZRFU, who were in damage control mode last night, Wayne Smith has resigned his job as All Black Coach.

There has been a misguided school of thought, wafting around the country like a bad smell, which held that Smith and Gilbert should be allowed to carry on coaching the All Blacks to the next World Cup due to the absence of any other candidates.

Shit, if we took that braindead stance, then we’d waive General Elections every three years just because the opposition looked a bit pathetic. The truth of the matter is: you can’t tell until you see them in action.

No, the One True Path for the NZRFU was to look at the results of the incumbents as the only yardstick applicable, see that it showed a 55% win ratio against the top teams, and then politely sack the both of them. After that all coaches in the country should have then been invited to apply for the job and the best candidates picked.

Not only would that have sent the message to everyone in rugby that results are what they will be judged on, it would have allowed our other coaches a chance to say how they would tackle the job.

According to an article by Wynne Gray of the NZ Herald yesterday, the review committee appointed by the NZRFU to evaluate the performance of Smith and Gilbert recommended that their jobs be advertised. Apparently the NZRFU “baulked” at this. The question has to be asked why they bothered appointing the panel in the first place then. It’s not as if the people on it were lightweights. With names like John Graham, Sir Brian Lochore, Richie Guy, Andy Dalton and Tane Norton there’s ample reason to take their suggestions very seriously indeed.

Reading between the lines, it would seem that the Lily-Livered Old Farts System would have probably liked to just invite Smith to carry on via a rubber-stamped reappointment, and we’d have been left with a country divided on the decision. How much of this attitude is part and parcel of “professionalism”, and the pressure to appear to have everything under control for the benefit of the big sponsors we wonder?

The upshot of all this palaver was that the NZRFU asked the panel to re-assess Smith a second time. The catch phrase “keep going until you get it right” comes to mind.

All of this nonsense was chopped off at the knees, thank goodness, when Wayne Smith stood up and said that he was resigning. Talk about putting the cat amongst the pigeons. I’ll bet there were a few rugby officials running around the boardroom in little circles flapping their arms up and down wondering which way home was.

Wayne Smith’s mana has risen ten-fold as a result of his decision. I don’t think anyone, least of all us here at Haka, has questioned his passion for the Black Jersey, or his ethics. This decision says it all, and will do the game a lot of good. The NZRFU board also ought to take a hard look at their handling of the affair.

Smith has said he will re-apply for the job along with the other candidates, and stand or fall as the best judged in that arena. Good on him, and good luck to him. If he is awarded the top job again then so be it.

In the meantime, we’d like to see some strong candidates put their hands up and contest the position. Here are a few who might throw their hats into the ring:

  • John Mitchell
  • Gordon Tietjens
  • Wayne Shelford
  • Graham Mourie
  • Graham Henry
  • Laurie Mains
  • Peter Sloane
  • Grant Fox
  • Robbie Deans
  • Frank Oliver
  • John Boe

Obviously a couple of these have other contractual obligations, but who knows – contracts can be re-negotiated.

Haka would love to see the Mitchell/Tietjens combination as we’ve previously said, but obviously that’s a remote possibility. For the main job of All Black Coach we would certainly choose Mitchell, at least. He would then presumably have some say in who his assistant, if any, would be.

Laurie Mains has said recently that he would not consider coaching the All Blacks again. But with more encouragement he might change his mind; he is not too old for the job, and is a better coach now than he was in 1995.

If we had to make a prediction, we would probably go with Smith being re-appointed in the job. Whether he would then be forced to take an assistant of the NZRFU’s choice is unclear. That would be a bad decision since it’s important that the coach chooses someone he’s comfortable working with. We would suggest that the piss-poor development of our forwards over the past two years would ensure that Gilbert is not an option for re-appointment.

In that case, the smart money would probably be on an assistant coach with solid credentials coaching the forwards. That puts Peter Sloane back in the frame, especially since he and Smith worked together very successfully at Canterbury. Mitchell is a distant option in this scenario, since he has indicated that it’s too early for him, and he obviously has his goal set on being All Black Coach, or nothing.

Other options for Smith’s assistant might be Buck Shelford, or Graham Mourie. Of these Shelford probably won’t apply, preferring to coach NPC and maybe moving on to Super 12 in the future. Mourie is a strong prospect, with his deep analytical thinking, however his performance at the Hurricanes hasn’t been outstanding.

Whoever gets the job I hope that the panel of All Black Greats (Brian Lochore et al) who submitted their recommendations to the NZRFU last week have made two important observations which will drive how the new coaches go about their job:

  1. We must pick the best specialist players in their positions.
  2. We must continue to recover our knowledge of the basics of the game, especially in the forwards.

Whatever the end result, at least we have an honest contest and may the best man win.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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