Scrum Sevens
The Kiwis who took flight to the Premiership
Will Macpherson
January 14, 2015
Warren Gatland's Wasps lift the Premiership trophy in 2005 © Getty Images

In Europe, Kiwi coaches are all the rage. Half the Six Nations teams have one and there are always a few in the Guinness Pro12. Now, with the appointment of Tom Coventry for next season, London Irish have one of their own. Here, Scrum Sevens takes a look at seven other New Zealanders who have guided England's finest in the Premiership - some were great, some not so much....

Warren Gatland

Gatland joined Wasps in 2001 under Nigel Melville after leaving Ireland. Wasps were languishing at the bottom of the Premiership but the man from Hamilton, Waikato set about re-building and ended up creating arguably the English Premiership era's greatest side. Gatland took over the top job when Melville left for Gloucester and, alongside Shaun Edwards, the Kiwi created one of the meanest defences the league has seen and a ruthlessly efficient attack to boot. For Wasps fans the names of Gatland's team are immortal: Leota, Shaw, Worlsey, Howley and, of course, Dallaglio. There were trophies by the bucketload - Premierships in '03, '04 and '05, the European Challenge Cup in '03 and, his crowning glory, the 2004 Heineken Cup, when they beat a gargantuan Toulouse side in the final. Gatland returned to New Zealand in 2005 but a legacy was secured: under Ian McGeechan and Edwards, Wasps would win the Premiership again in 2008 and the Heineken Cup in 2007.

Zinzan Brooke of Harlequins, The Stoop, 2008
Zinzan Brooke playing for Harlequins © Getty Images

Zinzan Brooke

Legendary No.8 Brooke retired from All Blacks duty in 1997 to join Quins as a player and by the time he left the club in 2001, he'd been head coach for a year, after taking over from another Kiwi, John Gallagher, under whom he'd acted as player-coach. He was a wizard on the field but he found life trickier in the stands as Quins. A series of injuries had shattered his contribution as a player, with his reported lucrative salary not feeling like a great value for money when he only managed 35 appearances for the club. As coach, he took a £120K paycut which opened up space for further investment, with the signings of Will Greenwood and former Wallaby skipper David Wilson. There was little return at the Stoop, however, and he ended up handing in his notice less than a week before the club's biggest game of the season, against Leicester in a Tetley's Bitter Cup semi-final. A cup semi may not seem all that bad but in the Premiership, only Rotherham sat below Quins and Brooke had to go.

Tony Hanks

When Gatland's successor at Wasps McGeechan left the club in 2009, the club turned to another Kiwi, Tony Hanks. Also a Waikato boy, Hanks had been part of Gatland's set up for three years before returning to New Zealand with him in 2005. His first year in charge saw the club finish fifth in the league and reach the Challenge Cup semi-final: a moderate return but hardly what fans had come to expect in recent years, especially as they were unburdened by a Heineken Cup run. By February 2011, Hanks was gone after a run of sub-par performances and results - Wasps won just one of his final six games in charge. But that wasn't that for Hanks and the Premiership. Five months on and he was first-team coach at Sale, who had finished 11th in the 2010-11 season.

Again, however, Hanks's was a short and unhappy stay and he lasted just nine months. He left with the club in seventh place, an impressive improvement on the previous season, especially with a host of new faces on board, but having just presided over three consecutive defeats by more than 30 points. The straw that broke the camel's back was a 45-9 mauling at the hands of Saracens and Hanks was off back to New Zealand, where he is now on the Blues coaching staff.

Wayne "Buck" Shelford

Saracens coach Wayne "Buck" Shelford oversees training, August 2002
Buck Shelford oversees Saracens training © Getty Images

Rugby's hardest man, one of its finest players and the haka's renaissance man had a stint as coach of Saracens in the early noughties. His appointment was very Saracens - he succeeded François Pienaar as a high-profile former player rather than a specialist or even particularly revered coach - and it was neither a long nor happy spell in charge. Shelford arrived after a pretty mediocre stint with North Harbour and his coaching team included his brother, Darrall. Shelford proved a brutal taskmaster with some ruthless selections (Thomas Castaignède became familiar with the bench), brutal post-match analysis and a heavy training workload. But all that good intention was in vain. In the Premiership, Shelford's Sarries won just 8 of their 22 games, finishing eighth and narrowly missing out on Heineken Cup qualification which wasn't good enough.

Mike Brewer

Mike Brewer is the third All Black back-rower on this list. After working under Scotland coach Frank Hadden in 2008-09 and quitting when he didn't get the top job, Brewer, who won 32 caps, joined a slightly shambolic Sale in April 2010, succeeding Jason Robinson. When Philippe Saint-André left in 2009, a raft of top internationals including Juan Fernández Lobbe, Sébastien Chabal and Luke McAlister had gone with him and the club had seen major upheaval. That didn't stop Brewer, though, who with his abrasive, straight-talking and often grumpy style, set about making wholesale changes on and off the field, signing more than ten players, releasing a similar number and irking senior players by appointing 20-year-old James Gaskell as his captain. Unsurprisingly, this didn't end well, with Brewer leaving after eight months in charge with the club all but out of the Challenge Cup and with just three wins from ten in the Premiership.

Bristol coach Peter Thorburn watches on as his side are relegated, Zurich Premiership, May 10, 2003
Peter Thorburn watches on as Bristol are relegated © Getty Images

Peter Thorburn

Veteran Kiwi coach Peter Thorburn arrived at Bristol in 2002 as part of Dean Ryan's back-room staff before ascending to the top job that summer. He arrived as a former All Blacks selector and North Harbour coach but, even after an impressive 2001-02 season, he inherited a sinking Bristol ship and was unable to steer the side through choppy waters. In December 2002, owner Malcolm Pearce announced he would quit at the end of the season and the club's future was in severe doubt, amid talks of a mooted merger with Bath. Unsurprisingly, with off-field and Heineken Cup distractions to deal with, Bristol were relegated from the top flight and crashed out of the Powergen Cup to Rotherham. With the club continuing to exist but dropping down to National League One, Thorburn returned to New Zealand.

Wayne Smith

Smith coached Crusaders to a pair of Super Rugby triumphs in the late '90s (the first of which famously came after losing the season's first four games) that saw him inherit the top job with the All Blacks after the 1999 World Cup. After two years, he was replaced by John Mitchell and headed to the Premiership to coach Saints. The club had suffered some lean years, but for that famous bolt-from-the-blue Heineken Cup win of 2000 and Smith inherited a tough gig with plenty of youngsters in the squad.

Smith's stay at Franklin's Gardens drew no silverware so wasn't an unqualified success, but Premiership finishes of 5th, 3rd and 3rd represent a very solid return. As you'd expect from a man who had already coached the most ruthless culture in team sport and would go on to play a major role in a World Cup win, an impressive tone was set. There were dawn training sessions, no god-given right to selection, no inflated egos and a refusal to create excuses when the team lost which, you'd think, is exactly what a Premiership club looks for when employing a Kiwi coach.

Wayne Smith with Matt Dawson and Budge Poutney in his Northampton days © Getty Images
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