The Rugby Site – Coaching highlights 2014
What would be your pick for coach of 2014? Graham Jenkins picks some of the coaching achievements worthy of praise over the last 12 months.
Steve Hansen – New Zealand
The All Blacks’ boss was crowned the World Rugby Coach of the Year for the third year in succession last month to cement his status as the most successful and arguably respected coach in the game today.
His predecessor, Sir Graham Henry, may have five such awards to his name, and of course a World Cup win, but not even he managed such a period of dominance of the elite stage.
The latest honour is due reward for having overseen another outstanding year for the world’s No.1 ranked side who lost just one of their 14 clashes this year – a two-point defeat to the No.2 side South Africa. That rich vein of form brought them yet another Rugby Championship crown and extended Hansen’s perfect record in that competition since taking charge.
A draw with Australia in Sydney in August may have denied them an 18th consecutive victory, and a world record for a Tier 1 side, but the New Zealand Rugby Union had little hesitation in handing him a new deal until 2017, the significance of which cannot be underestimated.
Hansen is the first All Blacks coach to be given a contract extension that extends beyond a World Cup – such is the faith that his employers and players have in him.
Gary Street – England Women
Street may not be familiar to many but fully deserves his place on this list having steered England Women to Rugby World Cup glory in France where a dominant 21-9 victory over Canada in the tournament finale saw them secure the sport’s top prize for only the second time.
The relief in the England camp was tangible having lost the last three World Cup finals to New Zealand, two of which Street witnessed at first hand as assistant to Geoff Richards in 2006 and later as as head coach in 2010.
The Rugby Football Union stuck by Street for their latest World Cup assault despite a disappointing 2013 campaign that saw them relinquish the Six Nations crown – having claimed six successive titles to that point – and also suffer a series whitewash against New Zealand and defeat to Canada in the Nations Cup final.
That faith was rewarded with Street, who is rightfully credited with a key role in the development of the women’s game in England over the last seven years, conjuring a turnaround in form that resulted in a memorable World Cup win.
That success not only went a long way to easing the heartache of their previous defeats but significantly boosted the profile of the sport with the manner in which Street’s side, and the other leading teams played, winning the women’s game many new fans.
Gordon Tietjens – New Zealand 7s
No coach can rival the consistency of New Zealand 7s coach Sir Gordon Tietjens who has been at the top of his game for over 20 years.
His dominance of the shortened version of the game was underlined by yet another HSBC Sevens World Series title earlier this year. Tournament victories in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Scotland and England carried them to a fourth Series title in-a-row and a 12th success in the competition’s 15-year history.
The odds suggested that Tietjens and New Zealand would also secure a fifth successive Commonwealth Games gold medal but they would have to settle for silver having been pipped by South Africa who claimed a narrow 19-17 victory in a dramatic finale played out in the cauldron that was Glasgow’s Ibrox Stadium.
His ability to both identify and nurture talent is legendary but could Tietjens’ mastery of the 7s game be starting to wane? His side have made just one Cup final in the opening three events of the 2014-15 Sevens Series.
Joe Schmidt – Ireland
Schmidt was already one of the world’s hottest coaching talents before he took on the Ireland job having helped steer Clermont Auvergne to Top 14 glory in France and also orchestrate Heineken Cup and PRO12 glory for Irish province Leinster – but his credibility has rocketed even higher since he assumed the reins of the national side at the end of last year.
An agonising defeat to New Zealand in Dublin in their last outing of 2013, when an historic first victory over the All Blacks appeared to be within their grasp, served as a warning to the rest of the world that Ireland were a growing force in the world game.
They have lost just one of their 10 Test since that defeat – a narrow three-point loss to England at Twickenham – but that was not enough to prevent the Irish from claiming the Six Nations title.
That headline-grabbing success was followed by a first ever series victory over the Pumas in Argentina and home victories over southern hemisphere giants Australia and South Africa.
This extended run of success has propelled Ireland to No.3 in the world rankings, their highest since 2006, but that is only part of the story with the performances of Schmidt’s multi-dimensional and tactically astute side fuelling hope of even greater things in Rugby World Cup year.
Bernard Laporte – Toulon
Toulon are rarely out of the spotlight to their star-studded squad and outspoken president Mourad Boudjellal but their coach Bernard Laporte also had his fair share of the headlines in 2014.
The former France coach, who won four Six Nations including two Grand Slams during his eight-year tenure in charge of Les Bleus, was handed a 16-week touchline ban by the Ligue Nationale de Rugby at the start of the year for verbally abusing a referee. The ban meant his assistants Pierre Mignoni and Jacques Delmas took on the match-day duties for much of the latter part of the season but crucially the foundations of Toulon’s title charge were in place.
Laporte was back in the changing room for a stunning season finale that saw Toulon retain the Heineken Cup with a 23-6 victory over Saracens and then follow that up with an 18-10 success against Castres in the Top 14 finale.
Such doubles are rare with only Toulouse (1995-96), Leicester (2000-01, 2001-02) and Wasps (2003-04) having dominated both the domestic and European stage in the same season and Laporte’s achievement, even given the immense talent at his disposal, deserves much credit.