Alan Gaffney’s long association with Irish rugby will come to an end whenever our World Cup campaign is done and dusted. He will return then to Sydney, by which stage another job may have presented itself to a man who is entitled to a bus pass but still wants to drive himself.
It remains to be seen how negotiations fare between his colleagues Gert Smal and Les Kiss and the IRFU. My understanding is that there might be positive movement on this next week, which would be a relief: they need to be sorted sooner rather than later.
Declan Kidney knows better than anyone what it’s like going to a World Cup with your future in the balance. In RWC 2003 he boarded the plane with the news of Eddie O’Sullivan’s four year contract extension ringing in his ears. At least there was some certainty for Kidney then: he knew O’Sullivan didn’t want him, so the only issues were the manner and exact timing of his exit.
Kidney will want to keep Smal and Kiss on board but it’s not his place to sort out their contracts. The IRFU like to leave contract issues until late in the day and in a tight job market this can work in their favour. Currently there aren’t a load of positions floating about the place so they might think there is no pressure in nailing down Smal and Kiss. The danger is twofold: a situation changes overnight somewhere else and suddenly there is another bidder in the market; and even if it doesn’t, you want sweet mood music all the way to the World Cup. And that’s very hard to achieve if key personnel don’t know where they stand.
Currently the players are happy enough. The key ingredient in keeping them upbeat in camp is, as it sounds: scoff. Lots of it, and it has to be top quality for they eat like racehorses and are every bit as fussy. Falling down on this contributed to the misery in France four years ago. Last week was their first get-together in the build up to New Zealand and their reaction to Carton House has been very positive.
Between a customised gym set up specially in a marquee on site, an excellent playing/training surface which is on the hotel grounds, and a quality of food that has them slow to leave the table, all seems well.
Gaffney will do his bit to keep it that way. I think he would have liked to stay on in Ireland either working with coaches or doing more one to one stuff with players – which is his strong suit – or indeed both. His chronology, between roles as head coach or assistant, reads: Randwick, Leinster, Munster, Australia, Saracens and Ireland. There’s a wealth of knowledge picked up from those experiences, and it will be interesting to see how the union replace him.
Option A is to go out and hire a younger man who would have some of the technical know-how of Gaffney if not his breath of experience. Option B is to ask Kidney to pick up the slack. Kidney wants to control the operation but he knows enough not to lose it by putting himself into that situation. So it’s Option B then. In the meantime hopefully we can still get the best of Alan Gaffney, a man who has contributed handsomely to the game in this country. Might we suggest the bulk of the time he has left is devoted to dismantling the Wallaby 9/10/12 axis of Will Genia, the awesomely athletic Quade Cooper, and Matt Giteau? Top of the agenda, that one.