Knowler: NZRU face battle to keep top coaches

TOP COACH: Steve Hansen was named Coach of the Year at the 2013 New Zealand rugby awards.
TOP COACH: Steve Hansen was named Coach of the Year at the 2013 New Zealand rugby awards.

Last week Steve Tew's voice lifted a few decibels when asked how the New Zealand Rugby Union can afford to retain the All Blacks' coaching staff.

The short answer is it isn't through money.

Tew and his NZRU associates can whistle all the sweet tunes they want into Steve Hansen and his cohorts' ears, but the reality is that praise doesn't add any extra numbers to their bank accounts.

No-one has access to the figures on Warren Gatland's renewed contract with Wales, which has been extended to after the 2019 World Cup, and Tew and his team of contract managers at the NZRU are probably thankful for that.

The digits on Gatland's paperwork are certain to make the numbers on the NZRU's employees' payslips shrivel by comparison. In an industry not short of egos that may hurt, or gratify, some people more than you think.

The NZRU has already locked Hansen and one of his assistants, Ian Foster, in until the 2015 World Cup while others such as Mike Cron, Aussie McLean and Mick Byrne are in the process of nutting out deals.

You can bet none are receiving the sort of money being tossed Gatland's way.

"The issue of whether we have enough money to keep the guys we really need to keep is the constant battle we have," Tew acknowledged.

Tew gets testy about criticism of the All Blacks getting "over commercial" because of their cosy relationships with corporate giants like AIG and adidas.

Since the NZRU forged their relationship with insurance giant AIG last year the All Blacks have had the letters splashed across the front of their jerseys - just below the adidas logo.

It's not a pretty sight. All Blacks supporters and media have their reasons for wondering if one of the sleeves will be the next to be sacrificed.

Tew argues the retention of coaches cannot be achieved off a "half-pie commercial programme".

The limited number of top jobs and the NZRU's lack of funding is reflected in the diaspora of our top coaches.

If you are not inside the All Blacks' and five Super Rugby tents, and feel the chances of being elevated are limited, the temptation to flog your CV to overseas clubs is high.

Here's a list of just a few of the New Zealand coaches who are getting overseas experience: Joe Schmidt, Rob Penney, John Plumtree, Pat Lam, Mark Anscombe, Greg Feek, Vern Cotter, Carlos Spencer and Kieran Crowley.

Another, Robbie Deans, is still assessing his options in Sydney after being sacked by the Australian Rugby Union, and John Mitchell is coaching at a lower level in South Africa.

Tew accepts the New Zealand market is too small to retain many of the ambitious coaches who know their paths are blocked here because of the paucity of top jobs.

He is also optimistic that once they have filled their coffers in overseas clubs they may return to give something back.

Gatland won't be one of them, not in the short-term anyway. At 50 he's got plenty of time to return to coach the All Blacks.

The big question is whether men such as Hansen, Foster, Dave Rennie, Todd Blackadder or even Wayne Smith - if he aims to be a head coach again - have elected to move on by the time Gatland wants to return to New Zealand.

If former All Blacks hooker Gatland is lured back here the prestigious title of All Blacks head coach will be the major attraction. It certainly won't be the loot.

Fairfax Media