The Coaching Conundrum: Appointments in Rugby Union and short-termism

When Richard Cockerill was sacked by the Leicester Tigers on 2nd January, national newspapers decried the shift towards reactionary dismissals in Rugby Union, long a problem that had been limited to professional football. Since then, Worcester have brought in former Bath boss Gary Gold as Director of Rugby over the head of Carl Hogg, Laurie Fisher has left Gloucester following a run of poor results and the Leicester board have made further waves in the Tigers millpond by bringing in Matt O’Connor, a move that prompted Aaron Mauger to leave within the week. These changes added to Andy Robinson’s replacement by Mark Tainton earlier in the season means that the five major changes have been made to coaching staffs within the season, not including the upheaval that occurred at Northampton with Alex King leaving by mutual consent.

To put this in context, the usual form for English rugby clubs in the professional era has been to replace coaches at the change of seasons if it is felt needed, with few major changes being made during the season itself. There are a few notable exceptions, Heyneke Meyer leaving Leicester in January 2009 for family reasons and Mike Brewer’s dismissal by Sale in December 2010, but generally boards have been understanding of the stresses and strains of professional sport and have rewarded loyalty and graft. For many, this season points to a turning point.

Before jumping on the bandwagon though, this season has produced some special circumstances that have led to a relative explosion of coaching changes. Firstly, it is not unheard of for the team at the foot of the table to change coaches part way through the season as Bristol have, Rowland Phillips having replaced Justin Burnell as London Welsh head coach in March 2015. Added to this was the length of time that Richard Cockerill had been at Leicester for. Having played for the club in two spells and having been a coach since 2005, he became head coach in 2009 and remained for the best part of eight years. In any sport, this would be considered a long and fulfilled stint in the role and at the time I did not believe that Leicester had acted rashly. Their subsequent decision to replace Aaron Mauger with Matt O’Connor was a shock though and speaks to a culture change that the Leicester board feel they need to instil after a few years of stagnation. Mauger deserved a chance though, at least until the end of the season.

Laurie Fisher also appears to have opted out at Gloucester as opposed to being sacked outright, following three poor years at Kingsholm although there can be no doubt that Carl Hogg was demoted by Worcester as it appeared they were slipping towards the drop zone yet again. But ultimately, this is not the storm that it has been portrayed as. If Steve Diamond and Jim Mallinder had been sacked as well for their poor starts to the season then it would be irrefutable, but rugby has not yet succumbed to the managerial circus that saw ten Premier League teams replace their managers in season in 2013-14 and nine in 2008-09. I believe that this year’s Aviva Premiership will be looked upon as an exception to the rule and next year will be comparatively quiet in response.

 

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