As players go back into regional pre-season training this month, they will be hearing plenty of different accents – Aussie, Kiwi, Ulsterman, English . . . but just not Welsh. Robin Davey wonders why it’s so deeply unfashionable to have learned your coaching trade in the nation that has just won the Grand Slam.
It is one of the great ironies of Welsh rugby that while players who have left the country are being encouraged to return home, native coaches can’t get a look-in.
The dismissal of Jason Strange from Cardiff Blues proves yet again that when it comes to coaching, anything stamped “import version” is best in the eyes of the WRU and the regions.
The governing body has to agree to the appointment of chief coaches by the regions, but they seem to have shown the white flag when it comes to developing their own compared with bringing in coaches from abroad.
Not one of the four regions has a Welshman as their head coach or director of rugby, whatever title they choose to give him.
The Scarlets have had New Zealander Wayne Pivac in charge, soon to depart for the top job as Warren Gatland’s successor. And they are replacing him, not with a Welshman, but another New Zealander in Brad Mooar from the Crusaders.
In charge at the Ospreys is Northern Irishman Allen Clarke, who succeeded Steve Tandy after the Welshman was sacked.
Turning to the east and Cardiff Blues have Australian John Mulvihill as top dog, formerly with Western Force.
And the Dragons have recently appointed Englishman Dean Ryan as director of rugby after spells with Gloucester, Northampton and Worcester as well as the RFU.
He succeeded Irishman Bernard Jackman and though Wales’ Ceri Jones was put in temporary charge last season he was overlooked for the main job which went to Ryan, instead.
Ryan has recently added former Edinburgh captain Simon Cross to his coaching team after working with him at Worcester Warriors.
That prompted former Dragons and Wales forward Andrew Coombs to ask, “No disrespect whatsoever towards Simon Cross, but why another non-Welsh coach at a region?
“Surely a young, ambitious Welsh coach working under the experience of Dean Ryan would have been a better option? Someone like Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees or TR Thomas would have been great.”
But Welsh coaches are clearly beyond the pale – or just deeply unfashionable – with a whole series of them sacked or forced to look elsewhere.
The latest of those seeking employment is former Wales wing Mark Jones, who has moved on from RGC and has admitted he may well need to look outside of Wales for any openings.
The list of coaches now plying their trade out of the country is pretty long – Mike Ruddock, the former Dragons and Wales chief now in Ireland in charge of Lansdowne; Phil Davies, ex-Scarlets director of rugby and Wales Under-20s chief now taking control of Namibia; Kingsley Jones, formerly at the helm for the Dragons now leading Canada; ex-Dragons colleague Lyn Jones taking on Kingsley Jones’ one-time role with Russia; and Tandy now with New South Wales Waratahs Down Under.
Strange is currently without a role while Lynn Howells has been without a major job since leaving Romania.
One coach who is returning to Wales is Jonathan Humphreys but he was forced to quit his job with the Ospreys before taking up a role with Scotland and then Glasgow.
He will become Wales forwards coach in succession to Robin McBryde post-World Cup, but his return to the fold is the exception.
The Wales top echelon will be dismantled after the World Cup. Gatland is returning to New Zealand after a highly successful time in charge of the national team while defensive sidekick Shaun Edwards is heading for France after failing to agree terms with the WRU over the length of a new contract.
Forwards coach McBrybe is heading across the Irish Sea to take up a role with top team Leinster, while Rob Howley’s future remains unclear. After the World Cup is over the betting is he will take up a role in England, though he was also on the shortlist for the vacant Munster job.
The picture looks distinctly bleak for Welsh coaches. This is not an appeal to keep out foreign influences or some crude piece of jingoism that suggests our boys are better than theirs.
It’s simply an attempt to raise these issues for the good of those either in Welsh coaching already or those players thinking about moving into coaching.
Where’s the career path? What are the job opportunities? Why do overseas coaches seem to be valued far higher, even those with very modest achievements and records behind them?
Though there is a dedicated WRU department overseeing coach development, the message appears to be this – you may be appointed as part of a regional line-up, but don’t expect to get the top job.