Who’d be a professional coach?
The Hurricanes-Blues Super Rugby game over the weekend was truly a tale of two coaches.
At the helm of the Blues was 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 that 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 running the Italian team in 2002 and though he had a couple of good results – 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. Kirwan announced he wanted the Japanese to play with ‘‘ Samurai Spirit’’.
But he didn’t have much to show for five seasons with Japan, except perhaps a 12-12 draw with Canada in 2007.
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 Graham Henry, but still could manage only a six wins10 losses record. In 2014, there were seven wins and nine losses, the worst record of the New Zealand franchises that season.
In 2015 it’s been five straight losses and Kirwan is being described in coaching terms as a ‘‘dead man walking’’.
Maybe he can draw hope from Boyd.
Last year Boyd coached Wellington in the national championship. It was a bleak two months for him as Wellington staggered through eight consecutive losses.
There were some incomprehensible results. How Wellington lost 31-30 to Auckland, after having the game sewn up, was incredible. Later there was an appalling 55-7 defeat by Counties-Manukau.
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.
Boyd’s boys began the season with three wins overseas followed by the hard-fought win over the Blues in Palmerston North.
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.
John Kirwan: Grim times.
Chris Boyd: Happy days.