Joseph lucky he's not a Premier League coach

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:01 19/04/2013
Jamie Joseph
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ

FRONTING UP: Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph is not prepared to turn his back on his players just yet.

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OPINION: Mark Hughes, Roberto Di Matteo, Brian McDermott, Nigel Adkins, Martin O'Neill.

Names probably not familiar to some of you.

They are all English Premier League managers who have been sacked this season. Not one of them lost their first seven games, unlike Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph.

Sure, it's easier to get a draw in football, and comparing rugby with the round ball sport can be like comparing apples with oranges but Joseph's situation highlights the differences between New Zealand rugby and professional sport around the world.

Of the names above, only Di Matteo at Chelsea had a squad capable of challenging for a title.

Joseph, by comparison, got to hand pick his assistants - Jon Preston and Scott McLeod - while the chequebook was opened to allow him to entice Ma'a Nonu, Brad Thorn and Tony Woodcock south.

The EPL might be ruthless but owners and chairmen demand results and do not wait until the end of the season to see if there is any light at the end of the tunnel.

Whether that is a good or bad thing is debatable but Highlanders general manager Roger Clark was unwavering in his support for Joseph yesterday.

"We picked him up a couple of years ago and re-signed him for another couple of years last year because of the results he has managed over the past couple of years," he said.

So let's look at the results: 2011 - eighth; 2012 - ninth; 2013 - last, so far. Overall, Joseph's sides have won 17 of the 39 matches - that's a winning percentage of 43.

Compare those numbers to coaches who have been shown the door in competitions in Europe and New Zealand's Super Rugby coaches have a pretty stable existence.

While that might be good for keeping the next All Blacks coach in the system, it's not good for the top level men, many of who are forced to leave to find better opportunities.

John Kirwan aside, who was the last top coach to come back and take up a Super Rugby job?

Joseph is safe because it's hard to think of the next "big thing" coming through the ranks who is capable of taking over the Highlanders job.

Coaches such as Dave Rennie do not come around very often and if they do, it's hard to see them coming out of the NPC because the competition is hardly about coaching any more, it's about managing players worn out from their Super Rugby schedule or nursing young professionals through their biggest test to date.

There are plenty of theories bouncing around as to why the Highlanders are in the pickle they are. I have a couple.

Listening to Joseph in late January, I remember him talking about how the squad had gathered with wives and partners so the coach could explain their goals and the sacrifices they would have to make to get there.

For me, it just sounded like there was an air of expectancy there (which spread across the country) and maybe the players went into the competition with the wrong mindset.

Another is the lack of return from their new senior men. While test rugby might be about experience and hardened professionals, Super Rugby can often be a young's man game where risks are taken and often rewarded. Older players have taken those risks out of their game.

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There have been the obvious problems, such as the loss of Adam Thomson, injuries and calls not going their way but it is impossible without being close to the squad to really know.

At least Joseph will know his job is safe, especially when Clark is saying this: "If anyone can turn it around then he can."

I hope he does because the last thing Taranaki coach Colin Cooper would want is to have a couple of key guys demoralised beyond rehabilitation when they arrive here.

- Taranaki Daily News

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