Six Nations 2014: Foreign legion who took over the tournament

 

The influence of the interloper has never been more obvious than in this year's Six Nations' Championship. For the first time four teams have a foreigner as head coach, with Ireland's Joe Schmidt (a New Zealander) and Scotland's Scott Johnson (an Australian) facing off in Dublin today, while Wales's Warren Gatland (another Kiwi) comes up against Italy's Jacques Brunel (a Frenchman).

The trend, which began when the game went professional in the mid-1990s, is "inevitable", to quote Bernard Jackman, an Irish coach currently on the rise with Grenoble in the French league. France and England have never varied from indigenous head coaches, but Ireland, Scotland, Italy and Wales have regularly looked beyond their shores for help.

Gatland's success aside, foreigners have a horrible history in this otherwise intensely parochial annual tournament. From Murray Kidd and Brian Ashton with Ireland in 1996 and 1997 (two wooden spoons) through Graham Henry and Steve Hansen (bottom half of the table in each of their six years with Wales) to Matt Williams and Andy Robinson with Scotland (two sixth places and three fifths), it has rarely brought results.

All Italy's Six Nations coaches have been from abroad. Johnson finished fifth as a caretaker with Wales in 2006 and third last year with Scotland. Gatland is the exception to the rule. In his four Championship seasons with Ireland, his team moved up one place each year to be runners-up in 2001. Then he was sacked. Taking over Wales in 2008, he immediately won a Grand Slam, and again in 2012.

"There are far too many foreign people involved at the top end of the game in our country," the Scottish former Scotland coach Frank Hadden said recently. "There is nothing wrong [with them] individually… but perhaps [there are] not enough who fully appreciate the history and tradition."

Arguably it is paradoxical to have foreigners on the coaching staff when the players must be qualified through birth, ancestry or resi-dency. The BBC television trailers for the Six Nations faithfully intone the elemental nature of the thing: "Rivalry: it's in our blood… our fiercest rivals are those who are closest". The reality is that all four Irish provinces are also in the hands of foreign head coaches – Mark Anscombe (Ulster), Pat Lam (Connacht), Rob Penney (Munster) and Matty O'Connor (Leinster).

As Jackman, the 37-year-old former Ireland hooker who will step up from being an assistant to become Grenoble's head coach next season, explained: "Experience is important, and there just aren't many ways for an Irish ex-player to gain it. I have ambitions in the long term to come home and coach an Irish province, and there are Irish coaches who are doing well in other countries.

''But you have Australians and New Zealanders with experience, and it is inevitable they will get some of the jobs. There's probably a lack of patience in Irish provinces but it's only natural they want someone with a varied CV."

No one can blame Schmidt, a famously diligent and approachable character, for a detached sense of what the world's oldest international rugby championship means to him. "My earliest memory is when Scotland, as massive underdogs, beat England in 1990," said the former Manawatu player and coach with Bay of Plenty, Auckland Blues, Clermont Auvergne and Leinster. "It was great viewing, and ever since then I've had an interest in the Six Nations. Coaching Super Rugby, you'd see if you could magpie a few ideas, steal a few shiny bits."

Jackman said: "It must be strange, a weird emotion for Joe, especially last November when he was coaching against his own team, the All Blacks. But I'd be the same. If Grenoble played Leinster, my allegiance would be with Grenoble."

Ireland are looking to deny Scotland only a second win in Dublin since 1998. Last year the Scots under the effervescent Johnson – who will be succeeded by Vern Cotter, a New Zealander, in the summer – somehow beat Ireland at Murrayfield despite only having 20 per cent of the possession.

Tomorrow they will be boosted by the return after injury of the excellent full-back Stuart Hogg, who missed the autumn Tests.

Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence