Wales in turmoil: Hansen can aim high with Clive

The new man desperately needs a friend. There is a local he can lean on, but he must be asked first
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Bookmakers have placed me tenth in the list of contenders to be the next Welsh coach, at odds of 25-1. These are not generous odds for something that hasn't a dog's chance of happening so I would advise you not to bet.

Indeed, I would not bet on anyone at the moment because Welsh rugby is in such a mess it would be like walking into a minefield.

Steve Hansen is the man pushed into that role on a temporary basis and in many ways he is ideally suited to it. How temporary he is depends on how many mines he steps on, but he was in his previous position as Graham Henry's assistant for only just over a month so he will bring some fresh ideas to the job.

He came highly recommended after doing great work in New Zealand with Canterbury and by now he has had a chance to assess the situation. I understand that he did question some of the Welsh tactics but Henry was not inclined to listen.

However, there is one aspect of Hansen's appointment that worries me. Clive Griffiths, the former Welsh rugby league coach, was another of Henry's assistants and I would have expected him to work alongside Hansen and utilise his knowledge of the Welsh scene. But another foreigner, Scott Johnson, an Australian who joined the Welsh set-up only 10 days ago as a "strategist", has been elevated to a coaching role. Griffiths might decide not to stay following this snub by the Welsh Rugby Union, but I hope he remains because his experience would be invaluable as they try to repair the damage caused by the Irish match.

With France visiting the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, there isn't much time for Hansen to make many changes. His first priority is to simplify the game-plan and clear the complications from the minds of the players.

What may be in his favour is the strange fact that players can get a sudden surge of motivation from the departure of a coach. It beats me why players should need extra motivation before giving everything but it does happen. It's like a release of pent-up tensions and it could well inspire them to beat the French.

Hansen would be immediately hailed a hero which would not be helpful because we are all aware how deeply rooted are the problems. I will be more impressed by how he handles team selection and tactics over a longer period. He must let the key players at numbers nine, 10, 12 and 15 have more freedom to dictate.

There has to be encouragement for out-of-favour players such as Darren Morris, Colin Charvis and Gareth Thomas to return to the fold. A major headache is what to do with Iestyn Harris, who is performing well below his capacity. Iestyn's main problem is that the more he is coached the more confused and less confident he becomes. I was supposed to be his official adviser but I have hardly had any involvement because I felt he was getting too much advice from too many directions.

I am happy to speak to him as a friend but there's a big difference from being a voice in his ear to being part of a big choir. I still have great faith in his ability to succeed, however.

If Wales can buy time with a settled performance against France they then meet Italy at home a fortnight later and, conceivably, will go to face England at Twickenham on 23 March in a less fearful frame of mind and with a game-plan that makes the most of their abilities.

If Hansen and Griffiths can produce that sort of improvement they would have earned an opportunity for a longer stint and I would leave them in charge until the World Cup next year. A long-term successor to Henry could then be appointed with four years to get Wales in shape for the next World Cup.

By then, I trust the WRU will have sorted out their domestic structure and the new man can be backed by a system that unites all clubs, players and coaches in one aim.

Henry seemed to have no interest in that but we must not forget the great results he achieved in his first year or so. Then, he was bright and cheerful and his team played a swift and open style that suited them. He worked on rapid line-outs, off-the-top ball and the midfield revelled in a quick service.

I still cannot understand why he went on to bring in rigid team structures. It was the same with the Lions. Even then he was unfortunate. They could have easily won the series and he would have been a hero.

But they did not and, helped by the malcontents, he lost confidence and was too stubborn to change. He leaves lessons to be learned.