OPINION: It's time to tip our hats to New Zealand rugby's coaches. They might just be the most valuable resource we have in our game right now.
In last week's column I talked about the stress on our player base, not only through losing ageing All Blacks but also well-performed Super Rugby players such as Richard Kahui, Craig Clarke and, possibly, Rene Ranger.
Can we replace that talent? History says yes but it's worth considering how we're able to do that.
There's no doubt we have the best coaches in the world, and this is proven by the demand for our people.
Consider the likes of Kieran Crowley with Canada, Warren Gatland (Wales), Robbie Deans (Australia), Errol Brain (Portugal) and Chris Gibbes and Milton Haig (Georgia).
But go a tier down and the theme continues. The big four teams in Irish rugby are all coached by Kiwis in Joe Schmidt, Mark Anscombe, Rob Penney and Pat Lam. Throw in Vern Cotter in France and, John Plumtree, Matt Sexton and John Mitchell in South Africa and you get the picture.
We've got this intellectual property in our coaches and other countries want it.
Most cut their teeth at age-group and provincial level in New Zealand and in some cases in Super Rugby too.
It's all good and well having talent but it's the ability to develop that talent that sets us apart from the rest in world rugby.
So while we continue to produce quality coaches, we can continue to feel comfortable in the knowledge that there will always be a next wave of players coming through.
Even at provincial level we're incredibly well served. Colin Cooper has coached Super Rugby, Chris Boyd and Liam Barry have both been assistants, and we're now seeing a new tier in the likes of Tony Brown, Tana Umaga and Tabai Matson.
Then you look at a guy like Wayne Smith dropping back down to Super Rugby, Sir John Kirwan coming in from international level, and Sir Graham Henry helping him out at the Blues. What we're seeing is knowledge being passed down in an actual form. They're hands-on coaching while they make their colleagues immeasurably better.
So you've got Kirwan learning from Henry, Dave Rennie learning from Smith. That's exciting, and encouraging. The best way to get that intellectual property is hands-on. It's what allows us to graduate players who are 19 and 20 into Super Rugby and have them perform.
The only way you see Francis Saili, Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua performing the way they are at the Blues is because they are being extremely well coached. It's our natural advantage: we can develop our talent better than anyone else.
Good coaches set the environment, the platform for you to launch off. They understand young players are different than senior figures, that they've got to be integrated, feel comfortable, and understand their role. It's an education process.
The relationship between a player and coach now is driven by feedback and communication. It used to be a "do as I say" approach, but now every young player wants to know "why am I doing this?". You've got to be good at communicating.
There's a wonderful thing they call buy-in, and if you're a player and believe in something, you'll go out and do it.
Without a doubt a big reason the Blues have started so well is they've got five coaches, four fulltime and Nick White part-time. Last year Pat Lam had one fulltime assistant and yours truly part-time.
It's a similar story at the Chiefs where Rennie has Smith, Tom Coventry, Andrew Strawbridge and Carl Hoeft.
When you're talking about players getting individual feedback and one-on-one attention, a ratio of five working with 35, rather than three, makes a huge difference.
Make no mistake, Steve Hansen will be widening his scope this year, and looking at some of these young players for the All Blacks.
Luckily for him the crop is phenomenal, and has come out of an under-20 programme that's absolutely vital in our game.
We've integrated so many coaches, as well as players, through that programme, and they develop an intimate knowledge of the talent. It's why Rennie was so successful with the guys he brought to the Chiefs. He already knew them inside-out. It's our system and, thank goodness, it works beautifully.
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