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Vincent Hogan: Next season, all four provinces will be coached by Kiwis and the two favourites for the national job are both Australian. Why the IRFU inferiority complex?


Ewen McKenzie

Ewen McKenzie

Ewen McKenzie

Ewen McKenzie got news this week that might as well have flown straight out of Lourdes. Within 10 minutes of a position becoming vacant on the far side of the world, the Australian wasn't just deemed in the mix to become Ireland's next rugby coach, he was all but flying into Dublin on a house-hunt.

McKenzie is, apparently, odds-on favourite to replace Declan Kidney, the big bookmaking firms utterly united on his candidacy.

No matter where you looked, the odds on offer were uniformly penal, figures ranging from 4/5 (Paddy Power) to 8/11 (Ladbrokes) to 4/7 (Boylesports and William Hill).


Viewed from his home in Queensland, this must have felt a pretty miraculous state of affairs for the former Wallaby tighthead.

To the best of my knowledge he has no ties with this country other than having played in four Test victories against Ireland, including the famous World Cup steal at Lansdowne Road in '91.

He's not even available for the moment, but will finish up with Queensland Reds soon and has indicated a desire to then make the step up to international rugby.

Clearly, becoming the next Wallaby coach would be his first preference, but it seems that the Australian RFU is leaning towards Jake White should the Lions write an eviction order this summer for Robbie Deans. So what's not to like here?

McKenzie has won a Super 15, admits that replacing Kidney is "the type of job I am interested in looking at" and remains a long-time friend of new interim Irish coach and former New South Wales Waratahs colleague, Les Kiss.

Beside these two and – I suppose – Joe Schmidt, anything else just looks like a queue for a bus. That said, the betting is surely interesting for what it tells us.

Conor O'Shea has made clear a desire to stay with Harlequins so, accepting him at his word, the highest-placed native Irish coach on most betting lists this week was Anthony Foley. His popular price was 50/1. Take it he won't be expecting a call.

Isn't it odd then that, by far, the two most successful men to ever hold the position were Kidney and Eddie O'Sullivan, yet – four Triple Crowns and a Grand Slam later – there is no apparent climate of trust for appointing another indigenous Irish coach?

Put it this way, if O'Sullivan's CV arrived at Lansdowne Road this week under a southern hemisphere name, do you think the IRFU would be arranging an interview or calling a press conference? Eddie – inexplicably – now ceases to exist in the Union's eyes.

Pat Lam touched down in Connacht this week and, by season's end, all four provinces will be coached by Kiwis. This either says something remarkable about the coaching talent flowing northward out of New Zealand or it suggests that Irish rugby is determinedly tapping into some kind of national inferiority complex.

Of course, McKenzie insists he's had no contact from the IRFU so it might just be that only the bookies see this as a job for which, to borrow the line encountered by so many 19th century emigrants, "no Irish need apply".

But the market here is tiny, with effectively only five professional head coach positions in existence.

Unless the Union actively promotes some kind of succession programme within the provinces, then the next indigenous Irish national coach will have to strike gold on some foreign fields before anyone starts asking for their phone number at home.

Are we really that low on self-belief?

Irish Independent