The phenomenal success of Canterbury Rugby over the last 15 years can be put down to a number of things, including a forward-thinking, innovative board and the ability to recognise and nurture talent. But of equal importance has been the commitment they have placed on consistently having a succession plan in place when it comes to the coaching staff.
By scouring the country for the very best coaching talent, then putting them into a system which has been proven time and time again to work, both Canterbury and the Crusaders have managed almost seamless transitions between coaching teams throughout the last decade and a half, and the ability to consistently foster and develop coaching talent is undoubtedly a vital cog in their wheel of success.
The most obvious example can be found by looking at the careers of the Crusaders’ two most prominent coaches, Wayne Smith and Robbie Deans. While both have gone on to achieve significant acclaim on the international scene, Deans as coach of the Wallabies, and Smith as part of the All Blacks coaching team that claimed last year’s World Cup, both earned their reputations in Super Rugby, at the helm of the Crusaders.
Smith took the reins in the second season of the Super 12, taking the embattled Crusaders from cellar-dwellers to champions in just two years. Deans joined him two years later in the role of Team Manager, although his job was far more hands-on than the tag suggests. When Smith stepped down in 2000 it was inevitable that Deans would assume the Head Coach role, and so began the most decorated coaching-reign in Super Rugby history.
In 2007 former Crusaders and All Blacks captain Todd Blackadder became Deans’ assistant, and after two years took over when Deans headed off across the Tasman.
But the development of coaches has also been spread between both the Super Rugby franchise and the Canterbury NPC side. Aussie Mclean, recently announced as part of Steve Hansens new All Blacks coaching team, cut his teeth as Assistant Coach of the very first Crusaders side, and was then seen in charge of the Canterbury NPC team in the early 2000’s.
In 2003 Rob Penney was exposed to the NPC environment as McLeans assistant, before gaining further insights in to the Red and Black machine during a one-year stint alongside Deans with the Crusaders.
The rest, as they say, is history. Penney ended up back with the Canterbury NPC squad, this time as Head Coach, and after six years in the role had created a dynasty which claimed four consecutive national titles.
Rated as one of the best young coaches in the country, Tabai Matson served as Penney’s loyal assistant over the last few seasons, and his elevation to Head Coach following Penney’s decision to join Munster was inevitable. With Matson choosing Scott Robertson, who was also involved with Penney in an official capacity, as both a Forwards Coach and a Skills Consultant, it seems Canterbury have found the blue-print for success, and are determined to stick with it
Guest Author: Tim Cronin