OPINION: It's decision time for coaches around the country.
The All Blacks' selectors have already given a tick of approval to Ali Williams and Piri Weepu and have indicated it is not compromising the integrity of the All Blacks jersey with the selection of Sonny Bill Williams.
In Taranaki, Colin Cooper has two more games against Waikato tomorrow and Counties-Manukau next week to sort out his front row, the No 8, halfback backup, and how he will juggle the players in the backline in an attempt to keep the Ranfurly Shield.
The man with the biggest decisions to make, though, is not actually coaching at the moment, but the choices he is about to make will determine whether or not he will be successful in next season's Super Rugby competition and beyond.
John Kirwan need look no further than 100km down the road and digest how the Chiefs turned from rags to riches in one season, based on having the right combination of coaches working together, and getting the squad selections spot on.
If he sees himself as the Dave Rennie of the Blues, it is a no-brainer that he needs a Tom Coventry and a Wayne Smith to work with, as well as a supportive management group. He certainly doesn't want to load up his team with mates and a high-profile chairman who might just get in the way.
Hopefully, Kirwan has learnt a lot of lessons on his coaching journey and takes time to reflect on where he can improve. He will see how Rennie has an ability to understate and over-achieve, not a trait of Kirwan's with Italy and Japan. He will see how the Chiefs pulled a team together with intelligent selections and a couple of real quality players, something lacking in the Blues at present.
He will see how Rennie and his crew played a game to suit the personnel and the culture, something that Kirwan had little idea about with his international sides. The Blues will be no different and understanding the culture of his group and handling it with an intelligent respect and discipline will be tantamount to being successful.
Bay of Plenty's Kevin Schuler could well line up as the "Tom Coventry" for the Blues. A former All Black and a hard-nosed forwards coach, he compares well with Coventry and has had plenty of coaching experience with Bay of Plenty, the Chiefs, and also in Japan.
Don't be surprised either if Cooper has quietly been approached as a person with a tonne of experience and mana.
The "X Factor" man is going to be the hardest to find. Who can be the Wayne Smith and walk straight into the shed, with a respect already earned and in place from day one, is a tough ask.
Graham Henry would be the logical choice, but it is unlikely he would want a fulltime role. John Hart could well have some unfinished business and no doubt has a mountain of knowledge. Graham Mourie, regarded by some at the Hurricanes as a very knowledgeable and clever coach, but who eventually lost his battle against Tana Umaga, could be an option. Whatever the choice, it is important to have that third person in the mix to provide the right coaching and leadership balance.
Kirwan's choices will give an indication of his maturity and understanding of the requirements. Then he needs to get out and meet the families, as it is a well-known fact that if you don't know the individual, you can't effectively coach him.
The pressure is building. I wonder if he has his buddy selectors dotted around the country in an effort to find a couple of jewels. Maybe Kane Barrett could move north at the end of the ITM Cup and be another Kieran Read at No 8 by mid-2013!
There are interesting times ahead.
Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.
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