It’s week three of Super Rugby this weekend and there’s plenty more Welsh interest in goings on in New Zealand. Warren Gatland’s Chiefs come up against the Crusaders, who now have former Wales wing Mark Jones in their coaching set-up. Speaking from Christchurch, Jones says his team are ready to extend Gatland’s frustrations as he told Graham Thomas.
Mark Jones intends to buy Warren Gatland a beer this weekend – to think him for his guidance and commiserate on a third successive defeat.
That’s the plan, at least, for the former Wales wing, who is now defence coach with the all-conquering Crusaders side in New Zealand.
It’s round three of Super Rugby Aotearoa in the land of rugby’s return, where star-studded teams are clashing before real crowds, instead of cardboard cut-outs, and the only things piped in are the drinks.
This week, Gatland’s Chiefs travel to Christchurch to face the Crusaders, the Super Rugby champions, with the former Wales coach in danger of losing for a third week running.
The highlights can be seen on S4C’s Clwb Rygbi: Super Rugby Aotearoa on Sunday evening.
“It’s going to be interesting and I am looking forward to catching up with Gats,” says Jones, who left his coaching job with RGC 1404 in Wales last year, had a spell with Namibia at the World Cup, and then landed a dream job in January with the Crusaders.
“Gats will be smarting because although his team have played pretty well in their two games, they have come out the wrong side in both matches.
“He won’t be pleased with that and I’ve explained to our coaching group that he will have spent his time this week looking at where they need to adjust. Gats doesn’t lose three on the trot very often, so we have to be right on out mettle this weekend. He will have them very motivated.
“I haven’t had time to catch up with him yet, but we’ve swapped messages. He’s enjoying some family time after all travelling around the world.”
Jones, now 40, was a high-stepping, thrill-a-minute wing with the Scarlets when Gatland arrived in Wales as national coach in 2008.
Under Gatland, Jones became a Grand Slam winner that year and learned plenty from the crafty Kiwi as well as from his sidekick Shaun Edwards.
“Gats had a big influence on my career. I was lucky enough to work with a lot of quality coaches, like Steve Hansen, Graham Henry and Gareth Jenkins and I’ve taken bit from them all.
“But Gats was someone I took an awful lot from – not just his tactical outlook, but the way he manages people.
“We will hopefully catch up for a beer, and I won’t mind buying if it’s the winner’s round. It’ll taste a bit sour if we lose.”
It would take a big upset for Gatland to be opening his wallet. His Chiefs lost to the Highlanders in the opening round when a late drop-kick by his son Bryn made it Gatland Junior 1, Gatland Senior 0.
The Chiefs then lost again last week at home to the Blues, while the Crusaders – who had to wait on the sidelines in round one – looked as if they had never been away as they hammered the Highlanders 39-25 last week in their first match back.
Even though Crusaders skipper and All Blacks lock Scott Barrett in injured, they can still call upon the likes of Codie Taylor, Luke Romano, Richie Mo’unga and Sevu Reece to spearhead their threat.
They also have Jones’ boss – head coach Scott Robertson – at the helm, the most successful coach in the world at present after leading the Crusaders to three successive Super Rugby titles in his first three seasons in charge.
The style of rugby has been exciting and innovative, meaning it’s a suitable comparison when Jones says he’s employed by the rugby equivalent of Barcelona, with Robertson as their Pep Guardiola.
“Scott is the Pep Guardiola of rugby,” says Jones.
“By that, I mean that when I watch Guardiola with a playing group, it is clear the players seem to love him. The energy he’s got and the way he transfers his knowledge of having played at the highest level is electrifying.
SR MOMENTS | Super Rugby 2019 Final
It wouldn’t be a @crusadersrugby Finals victory without a few dance moves from Coach Scott Robertson, and it looks like he’s been practicing. Did Saturday’s hustle outshine last year’s get down?#SuperRugby #SRMoments #SR2019 #ThrowbackThursday pic.twitter.com/quLsUtn6pi
— Super Rugby/TRC (@SuperRugby) July 11, 2019
“That’s like Scott. He also played at the highest level for the All Blacks. He’s also clearly got the technical knowledge, but it’s more about the connections he makes with people.
“He engages with you and gets the best out of you. I get on really well with him and I enjoy working with him. Every day he is telling you something that will make you better as a coach. Likewise, he is very good at complimenting people when they deliver something that is powerful for the group.”
‘Pep v Gats’ should quite a contest, but whatever happens this weekend, Jones is convinced he can return to Europe as a better coach when his time in New Zealand comes to a close.
“I could have stayed at home and tried to find something closer. That might have been easier for the family. But Canterbury have always had a very good history, and more recently so have the Crusaders.
“They have been in a rich vein of form for a while now – as good as any rugby team in the world.
“The comparison with Barcelona in football is fair. With the coaching group they have here, with Scott Robertson at the helm, this was a chance in a lifetime for me.
“I’m also working with some of the best players in the world in their positions, at the peak of their powers. To work with the best players and the best coaches around, was just too good an opportunity to pass up.”
S4C – Sunday 28/06
21.00 – Clwb Rygbi: Super Rugby Aotearoa Highlights