Saturday 21 September 2019

Mark McCall has no desire to return home as he extends Saracens deal

Saracens coach Mark McCall. Photo: Sportsfile
Saracens coach Mark McCall. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Mark McCall remains, unquestionably, the most successful overseas coach in the history of Irish rugby.

Yesterday's announcement by his flamboyant Saracens owner, Nigel Wray, that he and his assistant coaches have extended their contracts ensures he will remain so - and, most probably, given the evidence of their Premiership title win last weekend, add more gilded triumphs to his cv.

It will also serve notice to the potential list of suitors - from within this country and beyond - that may have thought to come knocking on McCall's door.

Curiously, it seems few have been knocking. Or will do so soon.

Certainly, whatever may be the case in England, who are likely to lose Eddie Jones following next year's World Cup in Japan, there have been no official or unofficial rumblings in Ireland about the potential for repatriation.

Both parties seem comfortable with the situation and neither those within the walls of IRFU HQ or those of McCall's London home particularly will have had their minds altered one iota as the Bangor man inked his fourth significant contract with the Englishmen.

The former Ulster coach - who left the province under a cloud despite leading them to their last item of silverware in 2006 - may still be scarred by what happened in this country.

Certainly, it has driven him to succeed elsewhere.

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Ulster, where player power and dressing-room division - sound familiar? - undermined his reign and led to his departure, bade him farewell amidst much acrimony and abuse from a section of supporters, some of whom even assailed him on private moments with his family.

And so he went abroad, patiently learning his trade in France, with Castres under Jeremy Davidson before assuming a brief stint as head coach and then in 2009, Saracens, where he worked under Brendan Venter.

His journey has served him well. Initially, it seemed like an odd fit; Saracens were a club who had often placed style before substance; McCall's emphasis was to reverse that culture.

McCall leaned heavily on the unique provincial parochialism that he knew so well from home, and which had elevated Munster and Leinster towards the European summits he and his club craved.

Home may have spurned him but he never spurned home.

"Munster and Leinster were the teams that you wanted to model your club on because of the consistency they had, the continuity in the people that they had," he told us last year.

Back-to-back European wins affirmed his vision.

But, despite his desire to accrue the lessons gleaned from Ireland, he appears to have no wish to apply them here. For now, at least.

Venter left in 2013, bequeathing the role of Director of Rugby to McCall, and as recently as 2017 offered the first real glimpse into the former Ulster man's thinking.

"I would advise him, as his friend, not to do that at all," he said in relation to speculation linking McCall with international rugby.

"Mark has different reasons for doing things. It's not about Mark, which is why I don't think he'll take an international job because it's not what he wants to do."

McCall has since confirmed the view.

"We have a good thing going on here and sometimes you have to realise when you have a good thing going," he said.

"Genuinely, and some people don't believe me, but having done this for a while and being lucky enough to have been at this club at the right time with the squad that we have and the age profile we have got, I want to stay here."

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