Rugby 7s coaching - a new version of roulette

Fiji team with their gold medal in the Rugby 7s at Rio Olympics
Fiji team with their gold medal in the Rugby 7s at Rio Olympics
©world rugby

WOW we thought rugby union was exciting and fast paced. We aim to bring you rugby news quickly but is there anything faster than the rugby coaching roulette in rugby7s? There is no doubt on the field that rugby 7s is end to end; but off the field its becoming a lottery. As we build up for the start of the World Rugby 7s Series in Dubai, we attempt to update you on the 7s coaches.

In our most recent rugby 7s articles we have focussed on Mike Friday, Ben Ryan and Paul Treu. That is not the case today, its New Zealand, Samoa, Canada and London Irish – an unusual combination but stick with it.

Starting in England, we have the London Irish,Assistant Coach Clark Laidlaw. He has been appointed the new Head Coach of the All Blacks Sevens, Interestingly a co-ordinated announcement by London Irish and New Zealand Rugby.

Laidlaw, who joined the Exiles ahead of the 2015/16 season, will take up his new role next summer. This sounds a classic All Blacks succession planning exercise until it’s pointed out the “God” of 7s rugby coaching Sir Gordon Tietjens stood down as the All Blacks Sevens but has now appeared with the Samoan 7s. That seamless transition is further complicated by the fact he’s Scottish, having played for Scotland 7s, between 2004-07.

Formerly Skills Coach and Video Analyst within the All Blacks Sevens set-up as well as Assistant Coach of the Hurricanes, Laidlaw is regarded as one of the brightest young coaches in New Zealand.

Laidlaw said: “It’s a once in a life time opportunity to become Head Coach of the All Blacks Sevens team and I’m excited at the challenge that lies ahead.

“This is a great move for both me and my family, and I would like to thank London Irish and New Zealand Rugby for working together to make this move happen.

“My main focus is currently with London Irish and ensuring that the team is fully prepared each week as we continue to embrace the relentless nature of the Greene King IPA Championship.

“There is a real feel good factor around London Irish at present and the building blocks are certainly in place for the club to realise its long-term ambitions under Nick Kennedy.”

Director of Rugby Nick Kennedy said: “Clark is a very talented coach and this is a fantastic opportunity for him to progress his career on the international scene with New Zealand Rugby.

“This is a great move for him and his family and we will wish him well in the next chapter of his coaching career.

“Clark has done a superb job for us so far this season, and he’s made it clear that his focus is solely on helping London Irish realise its ambitions.”

So Sir Gordon has decided to coach Samoa but what of his predecessor Damian McGrath. In this game of roulette he is the new head coach for the Canada men’s rugby sevens side.

McGrath fills a vacancy created when Liam Middleton was let go in July, following the team’s elimination from Olympic qualifying. Middleton had been at the helm for two seasons.

McGrath, 57 and born in England, was the coach of the Samoa 7s team in 2015-16, winning great acclaim for how he turned around a flailing program. The Samoans, formerly a power on the World Rugby 7s series, won the Paris 7s in May, their first tournament victory in a number of years.

The coach was well into his pre-season planning with Samoa when he was dismissed, and was shocked by the sacking. Since then he’s been linked to a couple other jobs — he admitted last week he’d applied for the Fiji 7s job — but the Canada job appeared to be his favoured fit.

The task now in front of McGrath is two-fold: get his squad up to snuff in time for the launch of the 2016-17 season, while building a development base that will see the best team possible pushing for Tokyo 2020 qualification. Success at the Sevens Rugby World Cup in San Francisco 2018 will also be on the radar.

McGrath came up through the ranks of England rugby league, coaching the national side around the turn of the millennium. For the past 15 year or so, he’s has been involved in sevens, mostly with England team. He also spent several years as a staff coach for the English rugby union, working as a skills coach for several Churchill Cup squads.

“Pacific Island rugby, in terms of administration, is very volatile,” he said. “To say I was caught by surprise by the dismissal is an understatement, but it was to do with personal politics and board interference. I had to hand the matter over to my legal representatives because they ran roughshod over my contract.

The latest update on the sacking is that the Samoa Rugby Union and its CEO are defendants in a lawsuit filed by their head coach.

The Union CEO, Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea'i, said the civil case will be heard for mention on the 19th of December. So that’s a fast paced rugby 7s coaching update. See you all in Dubai