Thursday 22 February 2018

Wish you were where . . . ?

Nigel Owens. ‘I’ll never forget coming off the field at half-time in the Aviva in November and the crowd nearly took the roof off with their reaction to the players.’
Nigel Owens. ‘I’ll never forget coming off the field at half-time in the Aviva in November and the crowd nearly took the roof off with their reaction to the players.’
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning talks to a wide range of rugby personalities about their hopes and dreams for 2014

Tom Hayes

(Recently retired Exeter captain)

I've just been home for the first Christmas since 2008 so I reckon retirement has its benefits. My plan for 2014 is to find my feet and figure out what I'll do next. I'm still on the books in Exeter for another couple of months but my back trouble has meant that I can't contribute on the field. I had become a passenger, which is why I stopped playing, and surgery hadn't worked.

In the meantime, I've been doing some coaching with the Academy in the club, and in Exeter University, and the dog is fitter than she's ever been. She's sick of the sight of me at this stage. For the last five years people have been saying to me: 'Are you going coaching when you stop playing?' But I haven't any firm plans made. I've a quantity surveying degree from 10 years ago and a civil engineering diploma since then so I want to dabble a bit in it and see if I'm up to speed or not. I'll do that over the coming year. We've two kids, Ogie is three-and-a-half and Daire is a year and nine months, and long term the plan is to come home, but it has to make sense financially. The first two years out of the game are very important.


Conor O'Shea

(Head coach, Harlequins)

Top of my list is to get a few more players back from injury, which is coming along nicely, and get ourselves back up to full strength. And that will allow us develop the type of game we've been playing, one which we'll be sticking to in 2014 regardless of what people think about how it can be stopped. We're not hidebound by entertainment, but when it's done right then it's good to play and good to watch. For us, it's the right way to go because we have the players who are built for speed -- simple as that.

In Europe, I can't wait for the Clermont game on Saturday. They are such an outstanding all-round rugby team, and will be coming full-on. We'll meet them full-on as well so it should be a great game for the group, and hopefully just a great game anyway. On a personal level, I'd love to get a few more opportunities to get over to Kenmare for some golf. And to have dinner in Packie's -- the best restaurant in the world!

David Shanahan

(Ulster Academy scrumhalf)

I moved up here from Dublin to the Ulster Academy in July after the Junior World Cup and by this stage I've settled in okay, though it was hard at first. I'm living beside Queen's where I'm doing business economics, which fits in well with Ulster because the Academy train early in the morning and you might be finished by 8.30/9 o'clock.

There's one other guy here from the south -- Alan O'Connor, who didn't get a place in the Leinster Academy either -- so we team up when we're getting slagged by the locals. There's a fair bit of it so you just take it on the chin.

My goal for 2014 is to try and get my name out there a bit more. So far I got about 10 minutes off the bench for the seniors against Edinburgh in the Pro 12, which I really enjoyed. Other than that I've played a few games for the Ravens, which has going well enough, so hopefully we can progress in the B&I Cup and if I got another run with the seniors before the end of the season I'd be delighted.

John Baker

(Players' agent)

On a general level, I'm hoping the IRFU will approach contract negotiations for players strictly on the merits of each individual, and not fall into the trap of lumping them into categories based on age or position or whatever. I think the union have been really good employers in the professional era and have been a model in how to look after players, but in the current climate, where the market is now much broader, you really have to look at what each player can give you individually and react accordingly.

I think Peter Stringer is the classic example of that. He's a remarkable man and I'd be hoping to extend his career for another while yet when those discussions start in the next month. He's the Ryan Giggs of rugby. And as for rugby itself, I'm hoping this political storm calms down in time to save the game in the northern hemisphere. I've no problem in saying I think ERC have done a good job over the years and should continue in the role.

Niamh Briggs

(Fullback, Ireland women's team)

This is a huge year coming up for us on the Ireland team and I'm ambitious for success in both competitions: the Six Nations and the World Cup. We have both England and France away so people will be saying we haven't a chance because we've never won away against them, but then we had never won a Triple Crown or Grand Slam until last season -- that's how I look at it. I have great belief in this squad and what we can achieve.

In the World Cup people are calling our group the pool of death, but I think it's a great opportunity. Lots of players never get the chance to play New Zealand at any stage in their careers so that date in Paris is one I'm really looking forward to. We have the US as well, who beat us in a play-off for the World Cup in 2010 -- Black Thursday we called that -- so we owe them one.

On the work front, I'm a garda in Roxboro Road station in Limerick, involved in community work. We're bringing kids out twice a week from Ballinacurra Weston to Garryowen for rugby and soccer -- we feed them and organise games and I love it. Hopefully we'll develop that even more over the year.


Mike Prendergast

(Skills coach, Grenoble)

At the start of the season we set out our stall to make the play-offs if we could, and we're still on course for that thankfully. We've taken a few good scalps so far but it's a very tight league and we're still only mid-table despite the results. There might be only eight points between us and either end of the table so we have to make sure we don't fall off the pace or before you know where you are, you're in trouble.

Personally, I've already got my New Year's wish delivered in the shape of the backs' coaching job for next season. I came over as skills coach this season and I didn't see the promotion coming so quickly so I'm delighted with that. I'll be working with Berch (Bernard Jackman) as head coach, which will be good as we get on really well. I can't believe how good his French is -- it's only seven years since I spent a season with Bourgoin, which is only 40 minutes up the road from where I'm living now, but you'd be surprised at how quickly you lose it. His vocabulary is way better than mine. I'll have to do something about that.


Michael Cheika

(Head coach, NSW Waratahs)

We just had eight days off over Christmas so we're ready to go and very clear in our desire for the New Year: to win the Super Rugby title which has never been done in New South Wales. It's our ambition and we're totally focused on it. I think our play on the field is okay but we have to get the off-field stuff up to the right level -- it's about behaviour and hard work, having more of an edge about us. And I think it's coming. We've got a junior network in place now with the under 20s and 18s coming back under our control from the ARU and that's a good thing. You look at Leinster where Brendan Macken wants to be the next Brian O'Driscoll, well here I want young players not just wanting to play professional rugby, but to play for New South Wales.

I'm also determined in the New Year to stick to my guns about playing the game with ball in hand. Statistically, it's the teams who kick more who are in the top half of the table and have the most success but we'll continue to play our running game and buck the trend. Leinster are a classic example of a team who have combined running with forward power. I want to do the same in 2014.


Garrett Fitzgerald

(Chief executive, Munster)

I've four things on my wishlist for 2014. First is that Munster win some silverware to reflect all the hard work on and off the field, and for our supporters. Second is that the planning authorities sanction the new 3,000-seater stand in Musgrave Park, and the ancillary facilities that will go with that. It would replace the new structure already in place, which is temporary.

Third I'm hoping we can commence building in late summer on the new training centre for Munster Rugby in UL. The plan is in conjunction with UL who are making a significant investment and we will then lease it from them -- when it comes to fruition it will be a terrific asset.

Lastly, I'd urge the Government to reconsider developing the Cork-Limerick motorway which would reduce the travel time from 90 minutes to 50. Not only would be it make much easier access for supporters coming to Munster games, but it would be a significant boost for the economy in the province and would pay for itself over 10 to 20 years.

Billy Glynn

(Former president, IRFU)

The biggest and most immediate challenge for Irish rugby in 2014 is sorting out the Heineken Cup and the Rabo Direct. If the Heineken Cup goes then it will have an adverse effect on the Rabo, and if that happens then in three or four years' time you'll see the Six Nations start to suffer, first with Scotland and Italy going down, and then Wales and ourselves. The tragedy is that the English clubs have shown little interest in the future of the Six Nations.

On the domestic front, the clubs are near and dear to my heart. People talk about money being the biggest problem -- and it is -- but the biggest boost you can give clubs is to channel the money away from players and into coaching and allied supports like strength and conditioning.

I hope more clubs go down that road in 2014 because the ones who are doing that are doing well, and finding their level, unlike those who spend to get out of their division and then find they can't survive. I think it's better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.

Nigel Owens

(International referee)

Two things I'd love to see in 2014: one on the field; one off it. On the field, it would be great if we had more occasions and more games like the South Africa-New Zealand game in the Rugby Championship, and then the Ireland-New Zealand game in Dublin. When you have two teams going out to play positive rugby, to really have a go, it makes a huge difference. A bad ref can make a good game bad, but a good ref can't make a bad game good.

I'll never forget coming off the field at half-time in the Aviva in November and the crowd nearly took the roof off with their reaction to the players. I just said to myself: 'Jesus Christ, this is some game!' Wouldn't it be great to be talking about a couple of games like that every year instead of every decade?

Off the field I just hope that common sense is the winner and the politics get sorted out. You'd like the politics left in Westminster and the rugby on the field.


Dion O'Cuinneagain

(Ireland captain, 1999 World Cup)

Like any Irishman, I cried when I saw the final few minutes of the New Zealand game in November so for 2014 I want to see Ireland beat a southern hemisphere nation, and for Brian O'Driscoll to remain injury-free to play out the rest of his career -- which would be great.

We're spending New Year's here in Plettenberg Bay where we have a holiday house. So lots of water skiing and surfing during the day and then braais in the evening with fresh fish and red meat. It's great downtime with the family: my wife Michelle, who was with me in Ireland, and our twin daughters Caitlin and Amy who are nine years old and quite sporty.

I set up a private sports medicine practice at Easter time after spending a few years working with the South African Sports Institute. It's in Constantia which is Cape Town's vineyard, so I'm close to the wine and close to the patients. Mainly we're dealing with what I call weekend warriors, casualties from a range of sports -- so 95 per cent of the patients are just normal people and then five per cent would be from the elite end of the game. It's busy, thankfully, and I hope to develop it in the New Year. I'm still in touch with some of the guys from my time in Ireland -- Keith Wood, Paul Wallace, Johnny Millar -- and we're planning a trip back for the 2015 World Cup. Something to look forward to.


Simon Keogh

(Legal affairs director, IRUPA)

Top of our agenda in the New Year is to work with the IRFU in creating a more professional working environment for our players. As one of the leading rugby nations in the world, we need certain processes and protocols in place so guys are aware about where they stand on issues like contract negotiation and agent regulation -- which we're working on at the moment.

On the contract issue -- which is pretty topical right now -- we're lobbying to bring some certainty to the process, so players know exactly when in the season they will be sitting down to discuss their futures and with whom.

We're also trying to expand our membership into past players, and I'd like to see that kick on in 2014. In November, we set up The Clubhouse for our alumni and other past players and it provides scholarship opportunities as well as job prospects with companies who want to hire people who have proven track records of working in a team environment. Hopefully they'll avail of them. We'll be busy.


Brendan Burke

(Centre, Bedford Blues)

Last year we did really well but we're struggling at the minute. We're probably the only part-timers left in the Championship and it really makes a difference against teams who are getting in maybe eight field sessions against our three, and they don't have to go to work after that. We're probably training less than AIL teams so realistically our ambition for 2014 is to qualify from our pool in the B&I Cup.

Personally, I want to further my coaching career and go on to level three. I'm coaching in a private school in Bedford, everything from under 10s up to under 16s and really enjoying it. There are no competitions so it's just about basics and the kids love it. I want to develop the other side of my work -- the electrical trade -- a bit as well because, unlike Ireland, there's plenty of opportunity here still. I miss home though, especially at this time of year. It's nine years since I left Leinster and Christmas away from friends and family doesn't get any easier.


Gerald Davies

(Chairman of the Lions)

I'll go local and say that I want peace and goodwill to emerge between the Welsh regions and the Welsh Rugby Union, that whatever emerges here below the international game in 2014 will be to the good of Welsh rugby.

On a broader level, I remember saying some time ago, and at that stage it was the Heineken Cup that was the matter in dispute, that it was not a local issue, that it was not a UK or European issue. This was an issue that would have repercussions internationally and not just in this corner of the rugby world. At some stage the IRB and other unions would be involved because the governance of the game was in question. The governance of the game by the ruling body must not be brought into question.

Tom Sexton

(Hooker, Melbourne Rebels)

For me 2014 is about rehabbing my knee and getting fit again. I ruptured my ACL in training on November 21, three months after I had arrived here from Leinster. It was devastating because I had settled in really well, and was getting on with the coaches. I thought I was in a good position for a starting spot and then this happened. I had an operation on December 13 -- the surgeons here in Melbourne are brilliant -- so I've just got off the crutches and the rehab is progressing well. The first stage is to regain full motion and then to be running at 12 weeks.

Initially, I found it quite difficult the way things are run here -- equally as good, but different if you know what I mean. The Aussies teach the basics of catching and passing and running lines on a level I haven't been used to before. But the Irish set-piece is very strong so I felt I was getting exposed to the best of both worlds. Well, I will be when I'm fit again.

Irish Independent

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