IRFU turns to the West as Gatland takes over hot-seat
THE IRFU has turned to the Connacht coach Warren Gatland to restore some credibility to Irish rugby following the resignation of Brian Ashton.
Gatland, who made such a big impact in helping Connacht reach the European Conference quarter-finals, will take charge for the remainder of the Five Nations Championship. He faces quite a task.
With a rampant French outfit Ireland's next opponents in Paris on Saturday week, the prospects appear daunting.
Even so, Gatland is looking forward to preparing the Irish team.
``I am delighted to have been offered this opportunity. I am well familiar with the Irish rugby scene, having lived and played here an and off since I first came to Ireland with the All Blacks in 1989.
``I am really looking forward to the challenge,'' insisted Gatland.
The statement confirming the appointment of the 34-year-old New Zealander came at the end of a day which began with news of the resignation of Ashton.
Following Ireland's poor performances, his rift with manager Pat Whelan, and his recent illness, the departure was not unexpected.
He restricted himself to a brief explanation in an IRFU statement. It read: ``I have decided to resign, with regret, for personal reasons. I offer every best wishes to the IRFU and the Irish team.''
Quite simply, the 50-year-old former Bath coach became totally disillusioned following the 17-16 February 7 defeat by Scotland.
He joins a long list of Irish coaches who have lasted precious little time in the job.
His attack of shingles, which is stress related, caused him to miss Ireland's training session at Aer Lingus last Wednesday.
It could well be that he now moves back into the English club scene, possibly with Leicester.
While Ashton leaves the Irish scene after such high hopes, it is asking a lot of Gatland to succeed. The IRFU intend reviewing the situation at the end of the Five Nations.
To be fair, Gatland has achieved enormous success with limited resources in his time with Connacht.
His achievement in guiding them to the quarter-finals of the European Conference, which included two victories over Northampton, was quite remarkable.
In international terms, he will also be dealing with very limited resources in the case of Ireland. No mention has been made of the announcement of the Irish team to face France but the likelihood is that it will be picked over the weekend.
Pat Whelan remains as manager but surprisingly there was no mention in the statement issued last night of Mike Ruddock, the Leinster coach, who looked after the Irish training along with Gatland in the absence of Ashton last Wednesday.
Perhaps this will be rectified over the next few days but an interesting aspect is that Welshman Ruddock is currently being quoted as the 5/2 favourite to take over from Kevin Bowring should he leave the Wales coaching job.
Ruddock is very highly regarded in Wales having successful coached Swansea for several seasons.
Gatland clearly feels very much at home in Ireland. He played 17 times as hooker for the All Blacks between 1988 and 1991, including the 1989 Irish tour.
He was also capped 140 times for Waikato in a 10 year playing career. He was previously coach to Thames Valley in New Zealand before becoming player/coach of Galwegians.
Everyone will wish him well in his bid to make something of the Irish team. IRFU President Niall Brophy stated: ``I warmly welcome Warren Gatland as our new Irish coach. I wish him the very best of luck and assure him he has the full backing and resources of the IRFU at his disposal.''
Then again, didn't the IRFU say the same thing about Ashton, Murray Kidd, Gerry Murphy, Ciaran Fitzgerald etc. Should things not work out for Gatland, they will be faced with the prospect of coming up with yet another coach.
Bob Dwyer, the former Australian World Cup winning coach, would appear to be one possibility, given that he was recently sacked by Leicester.
Dwyer was approached before the appointment of Murray Kidd and apparently was deemed much too expansive.
Willie Anderson, sacked by London Irish, in another free agent, but there is no real question of him working with Whelan.