Are Irish rugby coaches better off learning their trade abroad?

Eddie O'Sullivan believes Irish coaches may be better off leaving the country to learn their trade

BY Daniel Kelly 19:45 Tuesday 10 May 2016, 19:45 10 May 2016

Conor O'Shea and Mark McCall. Picture by: Clive Gee / PA Wire/Press Association Images

It has been a tough season domestically for Irish coaches.

Leo Cullen has had to deal with disappointment in Europe despite domestic successes. In Munster, Anthony Foley has had a Director of Rugby brought in over his head in the form of Rassie Erasmus. Foley's future next season is still unknown.

Former Ireland Head Coach Eddie O'Sullivan was speaking on Monday night's Off the Ball, when he said it may be better for Irish coaches to begin their career abroad. "It's tough to get started in Ireland because it's a small country and there is a microcosmic view of everything you do. Someone like Anthony (Foley) who has played all his life in Munster, and to then take over that franchise. It's a tough one."

"Now when things have gone pear-shaped for him, there isn't too many places he can turn which is tough. People like Bernard Jackman and ROG (Ronan O'Gara) going away, that's a big step for them. They can always come back. Foley could go away for a couple of years with fresh horizons. It may be good for him."

"Look at Eric Elwood who was dyed-in-the-wool Connacht. When Eric finished coaching Connacht, he pretty much finished coaching. He was happy with that but it does box you in."

One person that agrees with O'Sullivan's comments is Leinster fly-half Jonny Sexton. The Ireland number 10 spent two seasons at Racing 92 where he worked with Ronan O'Gara. Sexton feels his former Irish rival is perfectly suited to return to the Irish game if and when he decides to leave Paris.

"You could see him coming back to Munster or even Ireland. You never know. He has done it the right way. He went away. He is building into it."

O'Gara signed a new contract with the Top 14 team in March that will keep him in France until 2019. This weekend, the Cork native may win his first European medal as a coach as Racing face Saracens in the Champions Cup Final. The Munster legend may be seen as the shining light of Irish coaches working abroad, but there are many more who have impressed on foreign shores.

Here are three other Irish internationals who left Irish shores to continue their careers as successful coaches.

Mark McCall

The former Irish international began his post-playing career with Ulster as head coach in 2004. He led the team to a Celtic League success in 2006, before leaving the province the following season.

After his time in Belfast, McCall moved to Saracens where he started as a coach in 2009 before becoming Director of Rugby the following season. The 48-year-old has since helped Saracens become one of the best teams in Europe.

He has led the side to the Aviva Premiership in 2015 after losing the previous year's final. This weekend, his Saracens side are looking for their first ever European title, after losing the 2014 decider to Toulon.

McCall could become the first Irish coach to lead a foreign team to the European Cup (under any guise) if Saracens defeat Racing 92 this weekend. 

Bernard Jackman

Conor O'Shea

O'Shea was recently announced as Italy's new head coach. He will take up his position with the Azzurri and the end of the season.

The Limerick native has been based in England for over 20 years as a player and a coach. Once his playing career with London Irish, he joined the team as a coach, before leaving in 2005.

He took a brief sabbatical from coaching to join the RFU as a Director of Academies. Such was O'Shea's success in the position, he then joined the English Institute of Sport as their National Director.

The 45-year-old returned to coaching in 2010, taking over at Harlequins in London where he led the team to the Premiership title in 2012. He also has success in Europe with the London side winning the Challenge Cup in 2011.

Bernard Jackman

The former Connacht and Leinster hooker began his trade as a coach in the AIL, where he thrived with Clontarf as a Director of Rugby.

Jackman joined the then Pro D2 side Grenoble as a skills and forwards coach, as the team tried to get promoted to the Top 14.

He became the team's head-coach ahead of the 2014/15 season and led the side to an 11th-place finish. This season the side lie in 10th, with two games to go.

All three coaches have shown that leaving Ireland can benefit a coach's career. Including the national job, there are only five jobs in Ireland for head-coaches and three of those are currently held by foreigners.

The best way forward may now be to take the foreign route. McCall, O'Shea and Jackman have shown it can work.


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