When I played at Saracens, Francois Pienaar was our chief executive. He was, for that matter, our head coach too, and our captain. I was always a bit disappointed when he didn't find time to cook the lunch as well. I'm sure I did see him driving the team bus once, though. He was a busy man.
Naturally I would rib him while in the bath; suggesting his performance on the field was slipping due to an excessive workload, but inevitably he would reply by asking me who exactly I was, and what I was doing in the bath next to him. Then he would plug in his now archaic hands-free kit and stride, in his shoulder-padded suit, out to the luxobarge he called a car and begin barking instructions to his minions.
Meanwhile, Kris Chesney and I would take up position at a small, hidden window and wait to see how he might react to the cars we had earlier commandeered and parked so close to his on either side that his only option was to climb in through a window. Quite degrading – one would have thought – for a man of his stature but, presumably as a result of having literally no time, in he would clamber without even pausing for breath.
Despite not receiving the aggressive response for which we had hoped, we took this as a moral victory. I hope he never reads this paper.
As far as I am aware, there is no longer anybody attempting to run a Premiership club on his own. There will always be workaholics in sport but, thankfully, the various roles have by now been clarified somewhat.
Except, that is, the director of rugby. Over the years I have worked under a few different DoRs and they have all operated very differently. John Connolly – "Knuckles" – the former Wallaby head coach, is one man who sticks in the memory. He would run the meetings at Bath, pick the team and deal with the press. I think he wanted to be out there with the boys on the training field but, after a rampaging Kevin Maggs "accidentally" took him out, sprinting on to a short ball from Mike Catt, he was too terrified. Instead, he would drift back to the club to "deal with some business".
The one time we snuck back to see what he was actually up to, we found him in the coaches' video room in an armchair (which he had imported), feet up, watching horseracing with a Kit Kat and a can of Coke. His stumbling attempt to look immediately busy was so hilarious we actually hit the floor with laughter. But his approach worked; he never tried to be a technical coach, just to instil strong rugby principles in his players and, to a man, we would have died for him. Mission accomplished.
Wayne "Buck" Shelford worked a little differently. A true rugby legend, we at Saracens expected a pure team man, a coach of the people. Instead, he told Sky Sports after a painful loss that we had no leaders in the team and that, no matter how good a coach might be, "he can only work with the tools at his disposal". "Who's he calling a tool?" asked Chesney. OK, so in this case, perhaps he had a point.
But our captain, Kyran Bracken, one of the most talented, bravest men to have played the game, took offence at this statement and a split occurred. It was a sad time and Saracens said goodbye to a lot of players that season. A tight unit disintegrated from the inside out. Not all Shelford's fault, of course, but it would not have happened on Knuckles' watch.
Here at Bath, our director of rugby is Ian McGeechan, and we know exactly what he does. He doesn't eat many chocolate bars and I don't think he's into horseracing, but he does coach, and he does run the place.
We are lucky enough to have Steve Meehan, Martin Haag and Brad Davis coaching all the while, but it certainly helps to have one governor, one point of reference, should clarity be sought.
There will always be different approaches in this position, but I know what I like: nice and simple. If in doubt, ask Geech. He even gets his own parking space these days – the game really has moved on – so there is little opportunity to block him in, Pienaar style. Instead, we just take Dave Barnes's car and put it in there, hoping Geech sees fit to fire him on the spot. Tools indeed...Reuse content