Devolution – Visionary or Naïve?

In 2002 New Zealand Rugby instigated “Devolution;” a concept designed to empower New Zealand’s Provincial Unions (PUs) to develop their own talent. They scrapped their centralised in-house programme run out of the world’s-best, purpose-built rugby academy The Institute of Rugby (IOR) in Palmerston North.

It was a move away from central development. The question at the time – was this visionary or naïve? 

It’s now 2020 and the answer is clear in my mind and also in the mind of Eddie Jones.

It is time for a change.

The Super Rugby teams have cornered all the sponsors and relegated the Mitre 10 Cup to a second rate development competition. It’s full of boys straight out of first XV rugby who should be earning their stripes playing and training with their mates in rugby clubs.  Instead they attend a PU Academy, which is essentially only a gym, where they spend the majority of their time doing strength and conditioning.  There is very little technical, tactical or mental skill development. It’s an absurd waste of PU money which would be better channelled into club administration to help rejuvenate the life blood of the community base of the game. Most of New Zealand’s PUs don’t have the money to harness the best coaching expertise available in this country or overseas. However they continue the façade and waste money on fundamental physical development which should be done at club level, surrounded by other players. Their club mates may not be as gifted, but they’re no less committed and often much stronger mentally. Like any skill, mental toughness can be fast tracked with practice but it usually develops through time on the field in a tough rugby environment.

Volunteers can no longer serve the role of managing and administering rugby clubs.  They lack the time and often the expertise to facilitate a once healthy entity that helped build young people and their communities for 150 years. Rugby clubs are collapsing all around the country.  They are so necessary for developing good young men and women. These young stars of the future should flourish in club rugby and be selected from this real environment rather than the more protected and supervised world our wonderful schools provide.

Australian rugby was at its most competitive in the 80s & 90s when the Australian Institute of Sport set a new standard for High Performance Development in Australia. George Gregan was part of their intake and last night at IRANZ he was waxing lyrical about the benefits of this system. He too believes in the advantages  of the most promising learning from the best. When it comes to realising ones potential second best is not good enough.

IRANZ LIVE was launched nine days ago.  Our inaugural programme was led by Colin Cooper and featured specialist staff coaches, Eddie Jones, Wayne Smith, Mike Cron, Brian Ashton, Chris Jack, George Gregan, Andrew Mehrtens, Ma’a Nonu, Jeff Wilson, Dave Ellis & yours truly. We have just completed our first online coaches course where we created a virtual classroom for 14 ambitious coaches of various levels from around the world. Only one of these was coaching in New Zealand; the other 13 from Japan, Australia, England, Belgium, South Africa, Scotland and two Kiwis in North America. I think it’s fair to say we missed the real time interaction between the player and coach groups, however this format did allow us to harness some of the very best rugby minds in the world to pass on their knowledge. It is certainly a new way forward for coach development based around the sharing of knowledge for the advancement of the game.