Sunday 19 January 2020

Munster lessons make 'Dutchy' a Hurricanes force

Holland: "I’d love to go back at some stage but not in the near future." Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ruaidhri O’Connor

He was formed as a coach in the Munster dressing-room, now Jason 'Dutchy' Holland is in the greatest finishing school the game has to offer - the New Zealand system.

If you enjoyed the Hurricanes' attacking play in their high-scoring draw with the Lions on Tuesday then you've admired his work. The 44-year-old former centre is in charge one of the most potent try-scoring machines in the game, helping the Barrett brothers find holes in opposition defences, and he has a Super Rugby title to his name.

He remains in the early stages of his development, but they think outside the box in this part of the world and take the personal development of their coaches seriously.

The on-pitch work is important, but it is equally crucial for up-and-coming coaches to experience something different.

Clowns have been top of the agenda in New Zealand this week, but when 'Dutchy' went to the circus it was all business.

"New Zealand Rugby put lots into your personal development, give people lots of opportunities to get away and get personal development and try and develop yourself. It's been a great little journey since I've been here," says the former midfielder, who played 102 times for Munster.

"I came to Ireland as part of that. Myself, (Hurricanes head coach) Chris Boyd and Bruce Blair who runs coach development for New Zealand Rugby went to a summit in London, which was only okay, then nipped over to the Munster v Maori game - there wasn't much development going on there that night! - but then we went to Montreal, where Cirque du Soleil have their base, where they train and do all their rehearsals.

"We just watched how their coaches directed and how they put together their day, it was awesome, really awesome.

"All their artists, who are top trampolinists and do all their tricks… we were there three or four days and saw how they taught, how they worked with different people from all over the world, there were lots of good little things to come out of that.

"Then we went to the San Antonio Spurs (basketball team) and 'Pop', their famous and successful coach, Gregg Popovich. We watched him operate with the Spurs for a few days on the way home, it was great.

"So we were gone for about two-and-a-half weeks. Things like that, they get you out and try and get you out of the box and thinking a bit more laterally.

"That was cool, looking at finding ways... I don't know how much you get out of going to other rugby clubs now, unless you're looking for detail around the game.

"It's all around culture and how you put your weeks together, and teaching, how you can teach differently and how you can keep messages clear, all those sorts of things that I'm interested in.


"In my first couple of years at Munster, I knew what I wanted but I was s**t at getting messages across to the boys. Clarity wasn't as good as I've probably come to now," he reflects.

"So those were the things, the teaching aspect of things, that I reckon help me develop at the moment, getting cues as to how different people learn and how to get the best out of them really."

It sounds like a great trip, but Holland believes the experience is an intrinsic part of his own improvement as a coach.

He began that path in 2008 when, after a season spent as a video analyst, Declan Kidney appointed him as a coach and he found the initial period tough as he transitioned from the dressing-room to the position of authority.

He stored up the lessons and has put them into practice since coming home.

"Maybe I wasn't tough enough on boys in some areas," he muses. "I learned my lesson in my coaching at Munster and it has made a difference since I have been back.

"Having a couple of things in the back of my head around what was effective in Ireland and what was important for me as a coach and then being able to implement them with these boys…"

He is dealing with a Hurricanes squad stacked with talent: the brilliant Barrett brothers, their fellow All Blacks Julian Savea, Dane Coles and TJ Perenara and this year's sensation Ngani Laumape, who caused the Lions so many issues in Tuesday's game. They have the ability, but there are moments he has to rein them in.

"Sometimes you have to try and put a lid on these boys and be a little bit ruthless," he says.

"Scoring four and letting in two because of s**t offloads is great but it doesn't win you championships, so I am trying to find a balance.

"I want to give them grief if they try something and spill it here and then they score three or four tries from it. That is the big learning for me to have that balance with the style of boys here…

"Boydy's awesome as a head coach. He lets you do your bit, which has been great for me because I've been able to run the attack and the backs. That's my puppy and he rarely says or has anything to do with it, which has been awesome for me.

"You want to be able to coach what you believe a lot of the time. Sometimes in a system that can be a bit difficult. If you want to have a go, have a kick here or a crack there and the boss says, 'No, we can't do that'; so that's been awesome for me."

With the Munster job likely to come up in the next couple of weeks, Holland's rising profile is likely to put him in the mix. He'd like to go back some day, but that day remains in the future.

"I'd love to have another three or four years here, just doing what I'm doing and getting better at it," he says.

"Who knows what will happen but I'll get the kids through school first and hopefully win a couple of championships here, and see what happens in three or four years.

"We heard about that (Rassie Erasmus' expected departure) when we were in Africa, about a month ago, that he was going. I'd love to go back but not at this moment."

"We've got such good mates over there, I still love the Irish, love the place. I'd love to go back at some stage but not in the near future.

"I'd love to get back for a good holiday with the kids. Long-term, it would be good to get back, yeah, especially when Axel passed away, I thought, 'Jeez, I want to go back, I want to go back'. But we'll see what happens here."

Having played such a role in the Munster journey, suffering the agony of the 2000 and 2002 European Cup finals before watching on for the 2006 success and then being part of the 2008 win, he saw something similar when the Wellington franchise secured their first title last year.

"The Hurricanes hadn't won it, they'd lost the year before when they should have beaten the Highlanders; so the players were desperate, the town was desperate, the whole place was. When you're trying to win your first comp, the whole place goes mad," he says with a smile.

"It was really similar. I was involved in two Heineken Cup finals and lost in 2000 and 2002. I think the actual occasion, from memory, was bigger because of the bigger crowds and the way that northern hemisphere people support the game so much better.

"They're so much more fun-orientated and into it, the songs, that stuff.

"It meant every bit as much to us as a group as it probably did to Munster to win a championship but it was just with a little bit different of an atmosphere because of the way the mentality was different."

The connection remains and if he does return you get the sense that Munster would be lucky to have him.

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