New Scarlets coach Glenn Delaney believes Mark Jones’ stint coaching in New Zealand with the Crusaders could be the making of him.
Former Wales wing Jones moved to Christchurch in January to become defence coach with the all-conquering Super Rugby outfit.
Crusaders are a set-up Delaney knows plenty about. The province of Canterbury is where he developed as a player before moving into a tracksuit role in England, then back in New Zealand, and then as successor to Brad Mooar this summer at Parc Y Scarlets.
Jones has hit the ground running with the Crusaders. They top the table and are currently unbeaten in Super Rugby Aotearoa – from which highlights of the latest round can be seen on S4C’s Clwb Rygbi on Sunday evening.
“It’s great to a Welshman over there, doing well and from what I hear Mark is really enjoying himself and the boys there are enjoying him,” says Delaney.
“He’s getting some great experience. I think that’s part of the fabric of going somewhere else and learning a little bit about teaching in a different place.
“Ultimately, that’s what coaching is . . . teaching. He’s just learning a new way to do it with a different group of people and it will broaden his horizons.
“There’s no doubt every experience you have as a coach makes you much better and I’m sure Mark is really enjoying his time and he’ll return a much better coach for it.”
He could also return as a very successful one if the Crusaders continue their dominance of southern hemisphere rugby.
Three successive Super Rugby titles have laid the platform for their control so far of the new domestic tournament, although they sit things out this weekend as it’s their turn among the five teams to take a break.
That means a chance for Warren Gatland’s Chiefs to try and gain their first victory after four successive defeats as they take on the Highlanders – another side once coached by Delaney – in Dunedin.
In the other game, the second-placed Blues host the Hurricanes in Auckland, where the home team will be aiming to cut the Crusaders’ lead at the top.
Last week, the Crusaders beat the Blues 26-15 – a match in which Jones’ defensive strategies were put to the test, but not found wanting.
Delaney says both the Crusaders and their Welsh defence coach are already looking likely champions of the new tournament, which is intended to be expanded next time to include the Australian sides if New Zealand’s neighbours can keep a lid on their recent spikes in levels of Covid-19 infection.
“The Crusaders are showing their class at the top of the tree,” says Delaney. “It was an epic game last week between the Blues and the Crusaders and the Blues really threw everything at the Crusaders.
“But they defended well and weathered that storm and it just showed their title credentials.”
Will Jordan has been one of the new stars for the Crusaders this season and the exciting young back – who can fit in at full-back or wing – has topped the Super Rugby Aotearoa try-scoring charts with four to his name, while he’s also first in clean breaks, defenders beaten and metres gained.
But it was a measure of the kind of depth the Crusaders have – and their instinct to always sniff out the threat of complacency – that the 22-year-old was dropped to the bench last weekend.
“Will Jordan was left out last week, even though he’s been outstanding, which just shows you the depth the Crusaders have,” says Delaney, who believes Welsh viewers of the tournament should be keeping an eye out for other upcoming future stars for the All Blacks.
“Jordon is one to watch, so is Mark Telea at the Blues, but you’ve also got a massive battle among all the young number eights looking to take over from Kieran Read.
“You’ve got Marino Mikaele Tu’u at the Highlanders, Hoskins Sotutu at the Blues, and Pita Gus Sowakula at the Chiefs – three really dynamic young forwards who are showing that life for the All Blacks after Kieran Read might not be such a bad thing.”
Former Wales coach Gatland has copped a fair amount of criticism from disgruntled Chiefs fans who are wondering what happened to the coach who masterminded last year’s Wales’ Grand Slam.
But Delaney says it has been fine margins so far that have prevented his fellow Kiwi from getting on the board with his first win.
“The Chiefs had won that first game, with a drop-goal, and then the Highlanders nicked it back and this sport is all about momentum.
“If they had won that they could have built something, but since then the momentum has taken them in a different direction. But with a week off, I expect Gatland to have them full of intensity this week after training, desperate to turn things around against the Highlanders.”
S4C – Sunday 19/07
21.00 – Clwb Rygbi: Super Rugby Aotearoa Highlights