'The canny old Randwick guy'
Tom Hamilton in Sydney
June 14, 2013
Alan Gaffney calls the shots in training © Getty Images
There are few people better qualified to assess Saturday's game between the Waratahs and the British & Irish Lions than Alan Gaffney. The current Waratahs attack coach has spent time in charge of Saracens and Munster, had roles with Leinster and Ireland and grew up playing fly-half for Randwick. It is a career that has seen him work with some of the game's biggest and best talents and he will be watching on like a proud father when he sees his current side run out against the tourists in front of a packed Sydney crowd on Saturday.
He used to coach at Randwick - it is testament to just how an important role they have played in Australian rugby when on Wednesday the four players who were inducted as Inside Rugby's first Invincibles all played for the club - and helped bring through the likes of David Campese, George Gregan and the Ella brothers. All greats of the modern game, but Gaffney, nicknamed 'the canny old Randwick guy' by Ewen McKenzie, is not one for the spotlight. He is a quiet, omnipresent figure with a rugby brain still bursting with ideas despite him turning 67 this year.
His passion for the game is showing no signs of abating and while he is taking in Saturday's game, he may notice a few familiar traits in the Lions' defensive pattern having coached Andy Farrell at Saracens. During his two-year stint in charge of the club, Gaffney took them to four semi-finals. This was not the all-singing, all-dancing, something special mob we know, love or despise now, this was a team built on power and experience.
But Gaffney knew in Andy and son Owen, Saracens had two unique talents. "Owen was coming through the age groups when I left in 2008 and he showed a great amount of talent," Gaffney told ESPN. "It's going to be good to see him progress as this tour goes on, he's developing under some good coaches at Saracens.
"As far as Farrell senior is concerned, he stayed with us for a week last year. I'm still pretty close to Faz and he was always going to be a coach. He has such a good knowledge of the game and I'd call him a good footy player. It didn't matter if he was playing rugby league or union, he had a great handle on the game. Over time, he will develop into an exceptional coach, I'm not saying he's not now, but he's still in the learning area of coaching. He's going about it in the right way seeking advice from both union and league. This is the right way, rugby league can still learn a lot from union and vice versa."
And the Farrells will not be the only familiar faces milling around the Allianz Stadium on Saturday. Gaffney's spells in Ireland have seen him work with some of their top players. He was part of the Ireland coaching staff for the 2011 World Cup and he has fond memories of coaching the current batch of Irish Lions who will take to the field against the Waratahs. And he also remembers working with Ireland's favourite son Brian O'Driscoll and a young Tommy Bowe.
"I remember being at Leinster in 2000 and Drico (Brian O'Driscoll) was a young pup. He was a boy with an enormous amount of talent, it was a fantastic young side to be involved in. At the end of his career, I think I learnt more off Drico than he learned from me, he's just that sort of person. I made that comment after the game against Wales in 2011 and it was a fantastic time in my life to have been involved with those guys.
Sharing a joke with Donncha O'Callaghan during the 2011 World Cup © PA Photos
"But alongside being top players they are just really good blokes. To put Drico up with the greats when I first met him was difficult, but you knew he was going to be an exceptional player. He always had a fantastic work ethic and his skill base is incredibly good. What he achieved is not just through natural ability, and he has plenty of that, but it was through hard work.
"And with Tommy, I remember coaching him when I helped out Michael Bradley with the Ireland Under-21s. He was a strapping 15 for Ulster Under-20s. And you could see Tommy had plenty of ability and that was just as a young boy. He's been an exceptional player for a long time now."
And Gaffney has a particular fondness for fly-halves. He has worked closely with Ronan O'Gara in the past and was part of the nerve centre that guided Ireland to their Grand Slam in 2009. And he is also excited about Jonathan Sexton, though wary of his move to France.
"What Johnny Sexton has done from where he was to where he is now, is just sensational. There's been an incredible development in the boy. I'm enormously sad, from sitting a long way away, that he is going to play in France. I wish he had stayed in Ireland, as all Irishmen would, but Johnny will go and play abroad and will do an exceptional job for Racing Metro. I really hope he does come back to Irish rugby as I think it is important to keep the quality Irish players within Ireland."
Back in his Munster days alongside then Wasps boss Warren Gatland © PA Photos
But catch-ups, emotional ties and nostalgia will be put to one side when he sees his Waratahs side run out, now under the tutelage of Michael Cheika. While he is one of rugby's thinkers and has instilled a style of rugby at the Tahs which is easy on the eye, if they throw the play book out of the window and grind out a famous win over the Lions, then he will still be happy.
"We've changed around the way the Waratahs have played over the last six to eight years. That's not to say what they did in the past was wrong, they did what they thought was right, but they did not win a Super 15 title. But now we have gone down the path of playing with the ball in hand and running it. It's exciting. And whilst it's definitely coming, there are some barriers to break down. That will take time, it was never going to be a short-term project, it'll hopefully be medium-term.
"For Saturday, obviously we're missing a lot of players. Sometimes you go out there and there's not a lot of experience there, but when you get the heart, passion and soul right then it's amazing what you can achieve. We're going up against a fantastic team and we will give it our best shot. And the comment we have made to each other is, if you can walk off that pitch and say that's the best I can do, then you cannot ask for any more than that."
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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