It’s goodnight from them – Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards – as they prepare for their final Six Nations games with Wales. But Rob Howley and Robin McBryde are also on their way and Harri Morgan says they have been worthy members of the band.
A Grand Slam on the line, Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards’ final Six Nations games at the helm of the Welsh national side – likewise for Joe Schmidt, the Ireland coach, who has added Storm Gareth as a variable to the final day equation, and and Irish captain in Rory Best who is also bowing out of the tournament.
The closed roof verdict was an unpopular decision in Wales, but Schmidt is a man of detail – ruthless detail – remember how Wales struggled in the Paris rain? Joe does. Either that or he has hefty equity in Dai Poncho “2 For a tenner” on St Mary’s Street.
Such is the wider narrative, there has been little focus on the technicalities of rugby union that might determine who gets to win the day and in Wales’ case the trophy. Ireland’s chances of retaining their title are reliant on unreliable Scotland doing something exceptional against England.
If you want my two cents’ worth, expect a game of rock, paper, scissors where paper dominates – rock bashes away all day long but is negated by an opposing rock of equivalent force, and the team that can pull out the scissors at the critical moment will edge a tight one.
I’ll leave the intricacies, and also shift the narrative away from the protagonists who have dominated much of the pre-match headlines.
When Gatland and Edwards are done with Wales they enter a realm of opportunity. Edwards will return to his heartland to coach the club where he became a legend as a player – back to Wigan, back to rugby league.
The shape of Gatland’s opportunity is yet to be moulded, but he will join the job market where the balance of supply and demand is tilted very much in his favour. Even if he doesn’t get his dream job with the men in All Black, you can be sure that his next pay packet will be beyond the wildest dreams of most on the coaching wheel of fortune.
Joining Gatland in the job club will be two of his existing subordinates in Rob Howley and Robin McBryde. Two men who have first hand experience of Welsh Rlrugby’s troughs, the lows that have rendered the highs of the past decade that bit sweeter.
They have, of course, both played a part in facilitating the success experienced in the Gatland era, as forwards and backs coach respectively. Despite this direct association with success, however, they are unlikely to experience the demand that will come the way of their existing boss man.
At this point, it is important that I declare that my perception is driven by observation of team performance and reports. Only those in the inner sanctum really hold the answer, or an educated opinion, should I say, for the judgement of a teacher will always depend on the outlook of the pupil.
Over the tenure of the current coaching ticket, Wales’ peak performances have more often than not been attributed by the masses as the manifestation of a gnarly half back from Wigan and a confrontational Kiwi. The strong man from Ynys Mon and a scrum half from Pen-y-Bont do well to pinch a column inch.
In their defence, Gatland doesn’t seem the type to suffer fools, or carry a couple of token Cymros. He’s just not a tick box type of guy. Particularly not over a reign of this duration.
Their very survival in a culture that is shaped by a pursuit of victory would support a theory that they have a positive influence on the squad, whatever the extent of their sphere of influence.
Counter to this would be an argument that McBryde and Howley have survived as puppets of the regime – passionate purveyors of a top down message that the head honcho doesn’t want diluted by ‘thought-speak’.
As was the case for Jason Orange, Mark Owen and Howard Donald in the wake of having their journey decoupled from the superstardom of Messers Barlow and Williams, Howley and McBryde must now go about establishing a reputation as talents in their own right.
One would hope that both can draw upon their experiences in the national camp to have a positive influence on the game, if not in Wales then elsewhere.
Perhaps we will be in a better position to adjudicate their relative talents a year or two down the line than we are after 11 years in the Welsh set-up.
For today, whatever the result, we should ensure that a final Six Nations ‘diolch’ is not only extended to the poster boys of the Welsh coaching band, but also those providing the vital harmonies for which they are too often overlooked.