World Cup Coaches
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: There was a time when coaches were means of transport, and any humans labelled coaches in rugby union were regarded as tantamount to professionals.
When the great 1951-52 Springboks arrived in England for their tour of the UK, Ireland and France, Danie Craven was the assistant manager. When the team was in Eastbourne at the start of the tour, the manager, Frank Mellish, received a cable from Sport Pienaar, the president of the South African Rugby Board telling him to ensure that Craven was not coaching the team. Craven coached the team.
After their massive defeat in South Africa in 1964, Ray Williams of Bridgend realised the value of having rugby coaches and promoted the idea, till now teams do not have just one coach.
There is a head coach, assistant coaches, attack coaches, defence coaches, scrumming coaches, breakdown coaches, skills coaches, lineout coaches, fitness trainers, psychologists, motivational coaches, dieticians, managers, marketing managers, logistics managers – all sorts of people whose goal it is to help the team win and make money. Long gone are the days of two-man management, one to make speeches and one to answer mail. Coaching has also gone international in more senses than one with New Zealand coaches in great demand.
We are not going to give the whole gang with every team but instead give some small bits of information on the head coaches – that is the main coach, not the team’s psychologist.
The coaches who themselves played international rugby are Mario Ledesma, Conor O’Shea, Jamie Joseph for New Zealand and Japan, Phil Davies, Lyn Jones, Gregor Townsend, Rassie Erasmus and Toutai Kefu for Australia. Warren Gatland played for the All Blacks but not in a Test.
The Head Coaches for the 2019 Rugby World Cup
Argentina: Mario Ledesma
Australia: Michael Cheika
Canada: Kingsley Jones
England: Eddie Jones
Fiji: John McKee
France: Jacques Brunel
Georgia: Milton Haig
Ireland: Joe Schmidt
Italy: Conor O’Shea
Japan: Jamie Joseph
Namibia: Phil Davies
New Zealand: Steve Hansen
Russia: Lyn Jones
Samoa: Steve Jackson
Scotland: Gregor Townsend
South Africa: Rassie Erasmus
Tonga: Toutai Kefu
Uruguay: Esteban Meneses
USA: Gary Gold
Wales: Warren Gatland
Bits of Information
Mario Ezequiel Ledesma, born in Buenos Aires on 17 May 1973, played hooker for Argentina 84 times in a 16-season career. He played at the Rugby World Cups of 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011. He also played and coached in France and then coached in Australia. He took over the Pumas in 2018 from Daniel Hourcade.
Of Lebanese descent, Michael Cheika was born (4 March 1967) and grew up in the Sydney suburb of Randwick. He had a long playing career for Randwick and toured with New South Wales in 1997.
He is best known as a coach, having coached in Italy, Australia, Ireland and France before taking over the Wallabies in 2014, experiencing all the highs and lows, the praise and criticism of being a coach.
Philip Kingsley Brian Jones was born in Nantyglo, Wales, on 19 June 1969.
He was capped 10 times for Wales as a loose forward, before coaching, first at Sale Sharks. He coached Russia for five seasons, then Gwent-Newport Dragons before becoming the head coach of Canada in 2017.
Eddie Jones’s father was an Australian, his mother Japanese. They met in Tokyo when he was a soldier and she a military interpreter. Son Eddie was born in Benrie, Tasmania, on 30 January 1960 and grew up in Sydney.
He played hooker for Randwick and New South Wales. He then gave up being a schoolmaster to go into coaching and in his time coached Randwick, then in Japan and then back with Australian Super Rugby teams. He coached Japan, then Australia and was then appointed to coach Western Province but he suddenly departed to take over the job of coaching England in 2015. In 2007 he was an assistant coach to Jake White when the Springboks won the World Cup and in 2015 he was coaching Japan when they famously beat the Springboks in Brighton.
John McKee is coaching Fiji now, but he has coached in many places before – Australia, Ireland, England, France and Tonga.. It is not an easy job for the coach when 21 of his players play abroad in three different countries, most in fact in France.
John Gregory McKee was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1957. He went to Australia in 1977 and started his coaching career there.
After a playing career in France’s club rugby, Jacques Brunel started coaching in 1988. For five years he coached Italy in succession to Nick Mallett, starting well enough but ending with poor results at the 2015 World Cup. He went back to France, coaching Union Bordeaux-Bègles before taking over the French national team at the end of 2017. France’s subsequent results have been poor.
Jacques Brunel was born in Courrensan in southwestern France on 14 January 1954.
Milton Haig was a scrumhalf in his playing days, playing for Southland and then Bay of Plenty in New Zealand’s National Provincial Competition. He also played in South Africa (for Pirates in Johannesburg) and England.
His coaching started when he was still a player, filling two roles, but then got chances to coach at Super Rugby level. In 2011 he became Georgia’s national coach. Since then Georgia’s success rate has increased in Rugby Europe’s top competition and they have had wins against Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Romania. After losing to the All Blacks and the Pumas, they came third in their pool in 2015 and automatically qualified for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Milton Haig was born in Invercargill at the end of New Zealand on 6 February 1964.
Josef Schmidt was born on 12 September 1965 in Kawakawa in the Northland province of New Zealand but grew up in southeast North Island. He played rugby and qualified as a schoolmaster and played for Manawatu in the National Provincial Championship. Teaching and coaching are similar activities, and teachers, like Schmidt, would have taught and coached rugby at Palmerston North Boys’ High.
Eventually he left teaching and began a brilliantly successful coaching career. When he coached Bay of Plenty, they won the Ranfurly Shield, when he coached Clermont they won France’s Top 14, when he coached Leinster for three years they won four trophies, including the Heineken Cup twice, and now as Ireland’s coach they are ranked – however wonky the ranking are regarded – they are ranked No.1 in the world. Ireland have won the Six Nations three times while he has coached them and in 2018 he was named World Rugby’s Coach of the year.
He played for Ireland in an international career of eight seasons, a flyhalf or a fullback. He stopped playing in 2000 and started coaching London Irish, in 2001. He coached the Harlequins in London until he became Italy’s national coach in 2016 in succession to Jacques Brunel who is now France’s coach.
Conor Michael Patrick O’Shea was born in Limerick in the west of Ireland on 21 October 1970.
James Whitinui Joseph, born in Blenheim on the mainland of New Zealand, as South Islanders choose to call their island, on 21 November 1969. A flank and then a lock, he played for Otago, the New Zealand Maori and the All Blacks in 20 Tests. He then moved to Japan and, in those days of greater leniency at international level, he played for Japan nine times.
He played in two World Cups, one for New Zealand in 1995 and one for Japan in 1999.
Playing days over, he coached back in New Zealand, including Wellington, the Maori and the Highlanders before heading back to Japan.
His most prominent assistant coach is Tony Brown, the former All Black flyhalf/inside centre, a creative player, also a South Islander, also at the 1999 Rugby World Cup but playing for New Zealand. Later in his career he played in Japan and South Africa (Sharks).
West Walian Phil Davies is a long way from Wales in Namibia in every way, climatically, in language and in playing resources.
The big lock played for Llanelli and 46 times for Wales in his 11 international seasons. Playing ended in 1995, immediately he began coaching, in Leeds. He became Namibia’s head coach in 2015, taking them to the World Cup. By the nature of the Namibian job, he was able to act as consultant to clubs in the UK.
Philip Thomas Davies was born in Seven Sisters, Wales on 19 October 1963.
They say that Alexander the Great sat down and wept because he had no more worlds to conquer. Perhaps that is why Steve Hansen is retiring from coaching the All Blacks after the 2019 Rugby World Cup. It’s hard to imagine a coach who has achieved more than Steve Hansen and that after a dismal, much criticised period as Wales’s coach from 2002 to 2004 when he came back to New Zealand as an assistant to Graham Henry, the All Black coach. That lasted to 2011. Then Hansen became All Black coach. On the threshold of Japan he has coached the All Blacks 100 times, winning 87, drawing four and losing nine. They won the World Cup in 2015 and have won the Rugby Championship (Tri-Nations) six times. He was World Rugby’s Coach of the Year in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
Some may regard coaching the All Blacks as the easiest coaching job in the world; others would see it as the most demanding with expectations so high and opponents seeing them as a target.
That’s just some of it.
Stephen William Hansen was born Mosgiel, Otago, New Zealand on 7 May 1959.
Lyn Jones played for tough Welsh clubs, Neath and then Llanelli. In 1993 he won five caps on the flank for Wales. Later he became the player-coach of Treorchy.
His coaching included Neath, the Ospreys and London Welsh. He also coached in Namibia with Phil Davies before becoming Russia’s coach in 2018, taking them to the 2019 World Cup.
Richard Lyn Jones was born in Cwmafan, Wales, on 5 June 1964.
In 2018 Samoa advertised for a coach for the national team and had over 40 applicants, of whom only one was a Samoan. Steve Jackson, who in his day had played for Tasman, Auckland, North Harbour, Southland and the Maori All Blacks got the job with little time to be effective.
Steve Jackson was born in Auckland, New Zealand on 22 March 1973.
Gregor Townsend played anywhere from flyhalf to fullback for Scotland in 82 Tests over 11 seasons and in two matches against the B&I Lions in 1997. He also played in Australia and France and down on the Borders. He stopped playing in 2007 and immediately became an assistant coach to the Scotland A side. Since 2017 he has been the Scotland coach.
Gregor Peter John Townsend was born in Galashiels, Scotland on 26 April 1973.
Rassie Erasmus is a great and innovative thinker about the game, a hard and energetic worker with a cheerful disposition. He brought all of that to his playing career as a Springbok capped 36 times for South Africa. From school, he went up to Bloemfontein and played 112 times for Free State. He played Super Rugby for the Free State, the Cats and the Stormers. He stopped playing in 2003 and the next year he was already coaching the Free State Cheetahs. He also coached down in the Western Province before going off as the successful director of rugby of Munster in 2016. He went home to South Africa and in 2017 became the South African Rugby Union’s director of rugby and the meticulous and creative coach of the Springboks.
Johan Erasmus was born in Despatch, near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape on 5 October 1972.
Toutai Kefu’s father Fatai played for Tonga and also played in Brisbane where Toutai grew up. Toutai first played at No.8 for the Queensland Reds when he was 21 and went on to play for them 103 times. He played powerfully for Australia in 60 Tests.
Kefu started coaching in 2010 and in 2016 became the Tongan national coach, a difficult job as only three of the players play in Tonga. In fact more than half of the squad were not born in Tonga. That leaves the coach with little time for preparation and leaves him free to coach Queensland Country as well as Tonga.
Rodger Siaosi Toutai Kefu was born in Tonga on 8 April 1974.
While all of Uruguay’s World Cup squad were born in Uruguay, the coach was not. Esteban Meneses was born in La Plata in Argentina across the wide river from Uruguay on 13 September 1972. He played his club rugby on the flank in Argentina and also in Italy.
After the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Meneses took over as the Uruguayan national coach from the legendary prop Pablo Lemoine .
Capetonian Gary Gold is one of rugby’s most determined coaches. An Old Boy of Wynberg Boys’ High, he became a member of the Villager Football Club, the second oldest rugby club in South Africa, and started his climb up the coaching ladder with London Irish when Brendan Venter was the head coach. Since then Gold has coached in South Africa, Japan, England and now in the USA where he is the Eagles’ head coach.
Gary Gold was born in Cape Town on 6 July 1967.
Warren Gatland is an All Black. He did not play in a Test but wore the famous jersey in 17 matches as a hooker. He is a man of the Waikato, schooled at the great rugby school Hamilton Boys’ High and playing a record 140 times for Waikato
He ended his playing career in 1994 and was immediately into coaching and became famous. He coached in Ireland (Connacht), England (Wasps) and the Barbarians. In 2007 he became the coach of Wales and in his time Wales won four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, and reached the semifinal of the 2011 World Cup. He was also the head coach of the B&I Lions on two tours – 2013 and 2017, and is booked to coach them in South Africa in 2021.
He was awarded the order of the British Empire (OBE). He received the gong from Prince William at Windsor Castle in October 2014.
Warren David Gatland was born in Hamilton, New Zealand, on 17 September 1963.
Coaching, it seems, is nice work if you can get it and you can get it all over the world. Of the 20 head coaches of World Cup teams, only seven are coaching the countries of their birth and one of those is the Tonga coach who was born in Tonga, grew up in Australia, played for Australia and lives in Australia. And all of those seven coaches have coached in other countries. An itinerant profession?