A question of experience
March 5, 2012
Nick Mallett hands out the orders while in charge of the Springboks © Getty Images
Former Japan and Italy coach John Kirwan revealed last week that his lack of experience at the top level of international rugby has put paid to his hopes of coaching the England team. With a limited shortlist of candidates to replace Martin Johnson, this week's Numbers Game assesses their credentials and coaching CV.
Kirwan has taken in two World Cups as coach of firstly Italy and then Japan. With 10 wins in 32 during his tenure in charge of the Azzurri and 31 in 55 with Japan, Kirwan has a total win ratio of 47% on the international scene. But the Rugby Football Union has deemed that a coaching veteran of 87 matches does not have the relevant experience to lead the national side, with the organisation focused on securing 2015 World Cup glory when the tournament is hosted in England.
Instead, it appears that former Springboks and Italy chief Nick Mallett is to fight for the post alongside current interim boss Stuart Lancaster and World Cup winner Jake White, with ex-Ireland and USA Eagles supremo Eddie O'Sullivan still in the background. Upon hearing that he was not going to be considered for the role, Kirwan was quick to praise Mallett's credentials, saying: "I think Nick Mallett would be perfect for it.
"Nick is the ideal mix. He is highly intelligent, he understands what a team needs to win and he gets the best out of players. It will be a high-pressure situation into a home World Cup. I think Nick would be a great candidate for the job."
While Mallett coached a hugely successful Springboks side at the turn of the century, he oversaw Italy for four years up until the recent World Cup. And despite Kirwan not getting the nod from the RFU, he has a better win ratio than Mallett managed while in charge of the Azzurri. From the 42 games he presided over, Mallett only won nine, giving a win ratio of 21.42% compared to Kirwan's 31.25%. But unlike the Kiwi, Mallett guided the Azzurri past Wales, Ireland, France and Scotland - with Kirwan taking just Scotland and Wales' scalps.
But it is Mallett's record with the Springboks that has seen him establish himself as one of the best respected in coaches in world rugby. With a win ratio of 71% during his tenure from 1997 through to 2000, Mallett guided South Africa to a Tri-Nations title in 1998 and to impressive wins over Australia on three occasions - as well as the holy grail of triumphs against the All Blacks both home and away in July and August of 1998 (those came during the Boks' famous 17-game unbeaten run).
But one argument levelled against Mallett's credentials is that his success with South Africa came over a decade ago, when rugby was just finding its feet in the relatively new professional era.
However, supporters of Mallett's claim for the England post will also cite the back to back titles he secured while in charge of Stade Francais - where he ruled between 2000 and 2004 - as another key part of his coaching CV. And he also has the experience of working with the Western Province - something which may pacify the South African-born contingent in the England squad. Mallett also has the benefit of a colourful playing CV having turned out for teams in France, England, Italy and South Africa.
White, though, remains the only candidate who has achieved the ultimate accolade in the sport - winning the Rugby World Cup. Unlike his fellow South African, White delivered on the biggest stage. The Springboks, including the likes of Fourie du Preez, Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana, powered to final of the World Cup in Paris in 2007 where they beat England for the second time in the tournament. After securing South Africa's second World Cup, White left his post having won 36 of his 54 games in charge of the Springboks.
During his tenure the Springboks suffered 17 defeats and one draw - giving him a win ratio of 67.59%. White also led the Sprinboks to the 2004 Tri-Nations tournament in his first year in charge of the team.
For O'Sullivan, it is his experience with Ireland that seems to be pushing his claims. While Mallett lifted the Tri-Nations trophy in 1998 and White the World Cup in 2007, O'Sullivan failed to secure the Six Nations with Ireland during his tenure. The Ireland coach's time in charge of the national side between 2001 and 2008 saw 50 wins in 78, but included disappointing World Cups in both 2003 and 2007, where they failed to progress past the quarter-final stage. And prior to his time in charge of the nation, O'Sullivan had the opportunity to learn his trade from Warren Gatland while he acted as the Kiwi's assistant between 1999 and 2001.
However, while his coaching CV fails to show a Six Nations title, he did take the Triple Crown in 2004, 2006 and 2007 and guided his team to third in the world in 2003. And he also inspired his team to two victories over Australia - in 2002 and 2006 - and South Africa - in 2004 and 2006 - along with triumphs over the European heavyweights. But one scalp that has alluded him - and all other coaches of the national side for that matter - is that of the Kiwis.
O'Sullivan also had two spells with the USA Eagles - one as technical director at the turn of the century - and the other as head coach from 2009 to 2011. That second spell produced eight wins in 19. But if the RFU are basing international success on wins over the top-tier nations, then during his time with the Eagles, O'Sullivan failed to lead them to victories over any of the Rugby Championship or Six Nations-playing countries - similar to Kirwan's record with Japan.
And if the RFU is to place a big emphasis on results against the world's biggest sides when choosing the new coach, Lancaster's record pales in comparison to Mallett's and White's. While the former Leeds supremo has been making all the right noises recently, his time in charge of a side on the international stage stands at just 240 minutes. While his period with the England Saxons was impressive - with 15 wins and just two defeats - he is yet to lead a side into battle against a team with the quality of the All Blacks or Wallabies. But he did secure the Churchill Cup in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
For Kirwan's international CV to be deemed insufficient by the RFU, then it would be a hugely risky move for them to now turn to Lancaster based on that stipulation alone. But the flipside of that argument is that the Saxons coach knows the English game inside out and has experience of managing the national side - albeit briefly. And that is something that Mallett, O'Sullivan, White and indeed Kirwan lack.
When it comes to deciding who will succeed Martin Johnson, the RFU now faces the task of weighing up White's and Mallett's respected CVs, O'Sullivan's knowledge of the Six Nations and Lancaster's exuberance and sound PR front. With wins against the All Blacks, Australia and vast experience etched on Mallett's résumé, he appears to be the front-runner but with Lancaster proving the perfect tonic to England's disastrous recent history, the RFU may deem him to be the right man for the moment - despite his lack of international experience.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.