Good luck to Jimmy Cowan. The All Black is off to Gloucester next season and is just the sort of nuggety player that you want to have on your side. The Shed will love him. If there is a scrap, the odds are that Jimmy will be in the middle of it, outraged and wild-eyed, swinging away at some bloke nearly twice his side.
To use that well-worn sporting euphemism, Jimmy is a competitor. He would probably upend the table in the pub if he lost a game of dominoes. If he hadn’t become a rugby player, he would be one of the boys getting drunk on a Saturday night, looking for a fight to punch out the demons. Correction. Even as a rugby player, Jimmy got into the occasional boozy brawl until Graham Henry and the All Blacks told him to get help or get out.
Henry tells the Rugby Site: “You have a responsibility as a coach to help your players. Jimmy Cowan is a prime example of a person who has made it. He had challenges in life that he had to work through. He is now highly respected and one of the most popular players in the squad. Someone who has nailed it, like Jimmy did, can be a good resource to help others.”
The question is just what help will Jimmy be to English rugby. The arrival of Cowan is another signing that will do absolutely no good for the English game. A few years ago Justin Marshall arrived at the end of his career, put a bit of cash away for retirement and went back to New Zealand having brought no value to English rugby.
Look around the Premiership. Bath and Saracens have South Africans at number 9, Sale a Welshman and Newcastle have turned to a 34-year-old Irishman. London Irish have just recruited Tomas O’Leary, Exeter have a handy Samoan and Wasps have just signed up an Australian. With Cowan now joining Gloucester after the departure of their Scotsman, there are not too many Englishmen learning their trade in the Premiership.
Please don’t let the clubs con you that they have any interest in the welfare of England’s national side however much they would like to be subsidised by its earnings. The development of players in the New Zealand franchises (one overseas player allowed) is thrilling at the moment and a big reason behind Cowan’s move.
Cowan has lost his place at the Highlanders to Aaron Smith who might just become the best number 9 to represent the All Blacks since Graeme Bachop. The Hurricanes have a young kid in TJ Perenara who is coming through. The Chiefs have Tawera Kerr-Barlow. Andy Ellis is playing the best rugby of his life at the Crusaders and one day in the next three years Piri Weepu might get fit again.
The game is vibrant and Cowan knows that it is about to pass him by. That is what happens at top level sport. Unless you are a rugby player. Then you can go to England or France and collect your pension at the expense of young local talent.
Jimmy’s never been the greatest passer in the world and he has been getting worse in the past 12 months. He has never terrified defences with his running game. But he reads the game well, defends strongly and is one of the best kicking 9’s in world rugby. The Gloucester backline won’t benefit from Jimmy’s arrival and nor will English rugby. Still, never mind any of that, Jimmy will be a folk hero for the Shed and he will return home a richer man.