Grenoble supremo Bernard Jackman gets chance to show Irish fans what team can do
Published 05/04/2016 | 02:30
Bernard Jackman is a familiar voice during the rugby season. We see, hear and read the former Ireland hooker's thoughts on a regular basis across a range of platforms, but this Saturday is an opportunity for Irish fans to watch his team in action.
Grenoble have featured on Sky Sports' coverage of the Top 14 this season, but the visit of Connacht to the Stade des Alpes is by far the highest profile fixture for the Carlow native in his adopted homeland since he made the move to the French city in 2012.
This is his second season as head coach at a club who have established themselves in the French top flight in the past three seasons and are now looking to kick on by qualifying for the Champions Cup next year.
Currently eighth in the league and in the last eight of the Challenge Cup - through which the winners can reach the main event this year - that goal is within reach. Victories in their last three games mean the Alpine club are not looking over their shoulders and can focus firmly on the visit of the Guinness Pro12 high-fliers.
Along with his assistant coach Mike Prendergast, Jackman is quickly accumulating experience in a high-pressure environment and is enjoying every minute of it.
"If you want to get the most experience in the least amount of time, come to France," he said. "There's a huge amount of pressure and passion in this league.
"For me, it is about being able to think on your feet, to adapt to situations and manage the group well.
"When you become head coach, you become less focused on the technical stuff and more on the bigger picture and that's why it's important to have good staff and to be able to really focus on things are going to win you games here and now and that's to do with selection, man-management, game-plan and problem-solving during games rather than actually working for 45 minutes on tackle-technique.
"When you finish playing, you try and make yourself a really good technical coach, but then when you become a head coach you have to make sure that you have a really good understanding of recruitment, budgets, planning before you even get down to the plan of how you're going to play this week.
"It's been really good for me here over the last season and a half. It's more enjoyable because I've probably been through a lot of the stuff so it's not my first time going through things and you learn a little bit all the time about yourself."
His punditry means he is fully aware of what his former side Connacht bring to the table, even if their success this campaign has been somewhat lost on a French public firmly focused on their domestic affairs.
"For the last two weeks, my video analyst has come into my office four or five times going, 'Wow, Connacht!'" Jackman revealed.
"Connacht's reputation here in France isn't as high as Munster, Leinster or Ulster; the teams at the forefront of European rugby.
"A lot of teams in France wouldn't be aware of who's who in the Guinness Pro12 in terms of the league table. The French are very insular, they wouldn't know who's top of the Premiership in England either.
"They wouldn't be aware that Connacht have made massive progress and are top two in the Pro12, but certainly my video man hasn't analysed a team this season, even Clermont, Montpellier or Racing, with the same amount of detail that Connacht bring.
"It's about adapting to that different type of rugby that they bring. If they do, we believe in what we're about as well. It's very even and if we beat Connacht it'll be a big statement of our progress."
The 39-year-old is predicting an exciting game, given the similarities between his and Pat Lam's side.
"It's exciting, we want to put our best foot forward. We want to play, my players have the licence to try things. I try to give them the framework and when things go alright, we look back at that framework and help them with their skill-execution and decision-making," he explained. "Even though we're in a pressurised environment in the Top 14, it's a bit corny but we want to bring back French flair and our players enjoy that environment.
"I've a lot of players who come from other clubs where it's been a much more closed game-plan and style of play.
"With our game-plan, there's errors - the same as Connacht. When you look at their defence, they've conceded some big scores in games and that's what happens when you try and play.
"When you take risks, of course there's going to be turnovers and you're vulnerable. But, for us, it's about not losing that ambition to play with audacity and trying to improve on our capacity to shut down teams when there's an error made.
"We don't want to lose sight of the fact that we want to play and we're disappointed when we don't play well - even when we win. If we don't keep the ball in hand it's something that we go back to each week to try and learn."
Jackman is contracted to the French club until the end of next season and, although he's putting plenty of time into the club's future beyond that date, he isn't making any big statements about his own.
"I'm focused on moving this club forward, on changing our culture to create a culture of excellence," he said.
"I've a job on hand to try and bring some of our academy through which is vitally important. In 2020, we want to have 50pc of our first-team squad produced by our own academy and it's important that I understand our depth chart here to make sure that we're on track to achieve that, whether I'm here or not.
"I like the short-term pressure to win at the weekend and the medium-term pressure of what your squad is looking like next year and then the long-term problem of where it's going to be in three or four years' time.
"It's very, very rewarding working your way through that process."