SPORTS TALK WITH JOSEPH ROMANOS
The Hurricanes-Blues Super Rugby game on March 13 was truly a tale of two coaches.
At the helm of the Blues was Sir John Kirwan, who went through the agony of watching his team squander another strong position to go down 30-23.
On the other bench was Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd, whose team have now put together four straight wins, their best start to a Super season in the 20 years of the competition.
Kirwan is going through the hell many coaches endure at some point.
It’s not that JK has ever built a particularly good coaching record, but in 2015 it has been diabolical.
Kirwan began coaching in 2001, when he was an assistant coach with the Blues.
He took over the Italian team in 2002 and though he had wins over Wales in 2003 and Scotland in 2004 he was sacked after Italy went through the 2005 Six Nations competition winless.
He moved on to Japan, another minnow of world rugby. But he didn’t have much to show for five seasons with Japan, except perhaps a 12-12 draw with Canada.
Despite that unremarkable record, he walked into the Blues job, which has been a poisoned chalice for several years (think David Nucifora and Pat Lam).
During 2013, his first season with the Blues, Kirwan was assisted by Sir Graham Henry, but still could manage only a six wins-10 losses record.
In 2014, there were seven wins and nine losses, the worst record of the New Zealand franchises.
In 2015 it’s been five straight losses and Kirwan is being described in coaching terms as ‘‘dead man walking’’.
Maybe he can draw hope from Boyd, who last year coached Wellington in the ITM Cup.
It was a bleak two months for him as Wellington staggered through eight consecutive losses.
In the last round of the season, Wellington finally recorded a win, over North Harbour, but by then coach Boyd was wearing the haunted look of a coach living a nightmare.
The poor coaches. They’re stuck in the stands knowing that out on the field a group of erratic young men hold their coaching destiny in their hands.
To the surprise of many in Wellington, Boyd was not punished for the string of defeats. Rather he was elevated to be head coach of the Hurricanes.
Now those grim days of 2014 are but a distant memory. No longer is Boyd a dud coach.
Now he’s a rugby messiah, on the brink of putting the Hurricanes where they belong, but have never been – on top.
And Kirwan? Well, he’s down and dirty. But maybe he can take some solace from the fluctuating fortunes of Boyd.
Who knows? By the end of the season, Kirwan might even be a conquering hero.
Such are the vagaries of being a professional sports coach.