Intensity of Euro final moved up to new level
IF anybody needed reminding of how far rugby union has developed since professionalism, look no further than the Leinster v Saracens clash at St. James Park last weekend.
The contest was absorbing, physically immense and full of skill in spite of the close attention of defenders from both sides.
This was pretty close to international levels of intensity and Saracens displayed a remarkable nose for just when to go for the kill.
They were out of it till the last moments of the first half but left the Irish province wondering where their late score had come from.
It owed much to collective nous and feeling when the time was right for the strike.
After that they never really looked back and were well clear by the end.
Amateur players could never produce this level of intensity as it would be extremely difficult for them all to gain the necessary fitness levels at the same time.
The whole squad has to be in tune with the aims and there can be no weak links in the chain in fitness levels.
Mistakes will occur, but the very best professional sides do their best to ensure that these errors are judgement calls and not because of low fitness levels.
It was not always thus and the current quest for the next Lions coach seems to be pointing to Warren Gatland.
One newspaper published a list of Lions coaches since 1966, but they made a fundamental error in naming John Robins of Wales as the man in charge.
I knew John well as he coached us at Loughborough, but the game in the northern hemisphere hated the word ‘coach,’ even though out counterparts south of the equator had embraced the concept heartily and early.
They had no qualms about having coaches to get the best out of rugby teams, which may help to explain why we always seemed to be trying to catch up and never quite succeeding. The 1966 Lions went off to Australia and New Zealand under rather odd circumstances.
The tour captain was Colonel
Michael Campbell-lamerton, a Scottish second-row forward who would probably never had made selection for the Test side if he had not been captain.
It is distinctly possible that he may not have been selected in the touring squad at all if not captain, but that is all history now and his experience of captaincy was pretty limited with two stints at the helm for Scotland.
The rugby establishment genuinely saw coaching as a dismal step towards professionalism and John Robins was packed off as assistant manager of the tour.
He had no coaching remit, no job description and was pretty much in the dark as to what
the rest of the tour management expected him to do.
He knew that he had a tracksuited position with a hands-on situation with the players – but not everybody thought the same.
There was still an old guard who wanted rugger’s values to be an integral part of the way the Lions operated.
The team would come together on match days and play off the cuff in what was later seen as a Barbarians approach.
It worked in Australia but the amateur approach hit the buffers in New Zealand and mayhem occurred.
John Robins was in a no-win situation and things could only get worse, of course, when he snapped an Achilles tendon in the early part of the tour.
By the time he had recovered enough to take his coaching duties back, the system had put the captain in an extremely dominant position and Robins never added what he was so capable of bringing to the tour.
His injury did not help, but the British attitudes to coaching put him in the firing line from day one.
It could never happen now as the coaching team at all professional levels can cope with an injury like this.
Somebody else might have been flown out, but an injured assistant manager was nothing to lose any sleep over.
And even if the idea had crossed anybody’s mind, a replacement assistant manager would have to arrange time off work (usually unpaid) and be ready for a trip lasting months.
So in the next pub quiz that has the question asking for the name of first Lions coach, the answer is technically not John Robins. He was a mere assistant manager...
Saracens celebrate after their victory during the Champions Cup final against Leinster
»Former Gloucester and England A coach Keith Richardson