Why the latest big Welsh rugby appointment shines a light on a national

He’s a Kiwi, he’s been part of a Crusaders management team that’s overseen two Super Rugby title wins and he’s still only 44, so presumably his best coaching days are ahead of him.

Surely that means then that the Scarlets’ appointment of Brad Mooar as Wayne Pivac’s successor is shrewd, exciting and the result of a diligent determination to scour the world for the best candidate?

Very possibly, yes. Mooar, for all that he has never been in charge at elite level in New Zealand, clearly has credentials which suggest he could do extremely well in his new post. Let’s hope for the good of the Scarlets and Welsh rugby as a whole that he does just that.

Yet none of the above means his impending arrival doesn’t shine a spotlight on one of the most embarrassing issues in Welsh rugby – the absence of homegrown coaching representation in all of the nation’s top jobs.

Currently, a Kiwi (Wayne Pivac, Scarlets), an Australian (John Mulvihill, Cardiff Blues) and two Irishmen (Allen Clarke and Bernard Jackman, Ospreys and Dragons respectively) occupy the chief positions at the four regions.

Pivac has already been given the Wales hot-seat when Gatland goes, having supposedly been in the running alongside Dave Rennie, another New Zealander, presently in charge at Glasgow.

Granted, there were no feasible Welsh options other than Dai Young for a post of that magnitude, someone who has vast experience with the Blues and Wasps on his CV. Yet for whatever reason there was no genuine conviction on the part of the WRU to appoint him, so the former Lions prop ended up staying with the Coventry-based Aviva Premiership club.

Dai Young was never pursued with conviction by the WRU (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Pivac, of course, has proved a success since arriving on these shores having won the Guinness PRO12 and revived the Scarlets as a competitive European force.

The jury remains out on Mulvihill and Clarke who have not been in office long, but if Jackman holds onto his job longer than the end of this season it will be a major surprise to many.

Only the Welsh Rugby Union knows why it saw fit to place an opportunity to lead the Gwent region in the hands of an unproven former Ireland hooker.

Had they fought off interest in Jackman from multiple sources during the summer of 2017 to claim some sort of recruitment coup it would have been understandable, but there was no such situation. The former Leinster man has his protagonists, but 18 months on the only conclusion to be drawn from results is that he is presiding over decline.

Mooar, because of where he is coming from, will enjoy the confidence of Scarlets supporters before he’s even set foot on Welsh soil. But history suggests they should keep an open mind.

Pivac’s PRO12 triumph with the Scarlets two years ago was special because it was largely unexpected, and because it was achieved through some quite stunningly inventive and entertaining rugby.

The four coaches of the regions – Bernard Jackman, Allen Clarke, Wayne Pivac and John Mulvihill
(Image: INPHO/James Crombie)

But it was also special because it was the first time since the inception of the regions in 2003 that a foreign coach had won silverware.

On the nine other occasions one of our four teams has taken a title or a cup, eight of them have been with a Welshman at the helm. Englishman Danny Wilson’s European Challenge Cup success with the Blues last May being the only other exception.

Gareth Jenkins won the Celtic League for the Scarlets in 2004, Lyn Jones did the same for the Ospreys in 2005 and 2007, and also lifted the Anglo-Welsh Cup a year later.

Sean Holley took two titles for the Ospreys in 2010 and 2012, while Dai Young left the Blues in 2011 having put the European Challenge Cup and the Anglo-Welsh Cup in the Arms Park trophy cabinet a year earlier.

When, alongside that role of honour, you consider that of the 22 men who have occupied head coaching roles in the 15 years of regional rugby, 14 have been Welsh, you might assume that the domestic production line is in reasonably rude health.

It is anything but.

WRU head of performance Geraint John said this week that the union hopes to have Welshmen in the top regional roles in future. John argued that ‘we’ve got some really good quality coaches coming through’.

Geraint John says good Welsh coaches are coming through
(Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency)

That may be the case, but whether they will ever graduate to the top jobs remains a moot point.

Despite presumably playing integral roles in the Pivac regime, it appears the Scarlets didn’t entertain elevating either Byron Hayward or Ioan Cunningham from their back-room team. Stephen Jones, it would seem, is destined to join Pivac with Wales.

The Ospreys have three former players learning the ropes beneath Clarke – Andrew Bishop, Duncan Jones and Richard Fussell. All three are Welsh, but have only two full seasons under their belts as regional coaches.

At the Blues there is highly-rated ex-Wales Under-20s boss Jason Strange and former Ospreys flanker Tom Smith. Duane Goodfield oversees the scrum, and recently retired Gethin Jenkins is on the fringes now too.

If the Dragons promote from within in the event of Jackman’s departure, then they have Welsh alternatives such as Barry Maddocks, Ceri Jones and former Wales second row Ian Evans.

Yet cast your eye over the names above; how many do you realistically see being backed in the near future to lead their region? How many of them are even being groomed to do so?

In the Wales set-up, we’ve had two Welshmen – Rob Howley and Robin McBryde – in key back-room roles for more than a decade. But when Warren Gatland leaves next year, neither of them look like occupying high profile coaching positions here. Howley seems to be heading elsewhere, presumably to a club job in England or France. McBryde? Heaven only knows.

That isn’t much of a return on 11 years assisting one of the most celebrated coaches in world rugby, winning two Grand Slams, a Six Nations title and reaching the latter stages of two World Cups.

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There is synergy with the Scarlets. If Hayward and Cunningham aren’t seen as genuine contenders for career advancement, what are they doing there?

The same goes for all their counterparts at the Arms Park, Liberty Stadium and Rodney Parade.

Ask Scarlets board members why they didn’t go for a Welshman, and the response is more than likely to be: ‘Who was there?’

The choice, they will argue, was between Welshmen who have had their chance at this level and failed – damaged goods for want of a better phrase – or Welshmen who don’t have the stature to step up, some of whom never will.

That outlook points to two things; one, it’s an appalling indictment of Welsh rugby’s costly coaching pathways over the course of the last decade and a half, and two, it shows a chronic lack of faith in homegrown options.

The WRU went for Jackman, the Blues for Mulvihill, the Scarlets for Mooar, Wales for Pivac.

None were spoilt for Welsh choices, yet still the prevailing mood is evidently to back anyone but our own. And the thirst to ‘scour the world’ every time a vacancy arises looks to be intensifying.

Who’d be an aspiring Welsh rugby coach in such a climate? It’s like the classic case of a graduate trying to get on the first rung of the career ladder that originally inspired him to study for three years. He discovers he can’t get a job without experience, or experience without a job.

Welsh rugby, at elite coaching level, needs to start taking a punt on its own people. Until it does, the above cycle will never be broken.

And the best qualification for landing a plum job in these parts will remain a southern hemisphere accent.