Hadden not alone as coaches feel the heat
FRANK Hadden is acutely aware of the difficulty he now faces in convincing his Scottish Rugby Union employers of progress in a run of one win in the last six Tests, and yet he is merely one of three coaches fighting for the chance to stay at the helm after an intriguing 2008 RBS Six Nations Championship.
Warren Gatland probably expected some heat in his first season as Wales' coach as he tried to lift a demoralised World Cup squad, yet the Kiwi was still smiling from ear to ear yesterday as he recovered from the Principality's Grand Slam celebrations. There can be little doubt that the Welsh deserved the honour – their tenth clean sweep – which defied pre-tournament odds of 16-1, but while the coaching staff of Gatland, Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley has unparalleled knowledge of the game even they kept the focus simple for this tournament and strived to tap into Wales' energy, nous and freedom of expression.
France and Italy had new men at the helm in Marc Lievremont and Nick Mallett, two very different characters. Mallett spoke at the weekend of media criticism of his players in Italy, where expectations are rising in tandem with their improving performances, but the win over Scotland provided evidence that they remain a better side than some World Cup showings suggested.
Lievremont used his first tournament to blood a host of up-and-coming French talents and most grasped the opportunity to leave him smiling. He was still a relatively happy man after losing to Wales on Saturday night, no doubt comfortable in the knowledge an eventual third-place finish should be easier to improve upon than a debut championship title.
The Welsh coaches have set a high bar, and still expect to create a more competitive side by next year, but they are already speaking of going to South Africa this summer intent on adding a Springbok scalp. It is the very fact that Wales are still a work in progress that has left a bitter taste in the mouths of their beaten foes and lifted the intensity around the three other coaches.
Brian Ashton is perhaps the most frustrated soul as he faces attacks from many sides for the inconsistent manner in which his side played in this tournament yet, as in his recent RWC campaign, his team pulled themselves from the mire to finish runners-up.
Still, English supporters know that they should never have collapsed as meekly as they did to the Welsh in the opening game and could have beaten Scotland, had they got the selection and tactics right, and perhaps not over-reacted to Danny Cipriani's nightclub visit.
Rob Andrew, Ashton's boss at the RFU, suggested last week that the coach would be given until the end of the year to make his mark – not easy as England face New Zealand three times, Australia and South Africa as well as the Pacific Islanders – but the coach remains 8/11 with Ladbrokes to be dropped before next season's Six Nations.
Ireland's wins over Scotland and Italy could not stop an onslaught of criticism across the Irish Sea for Eddie O'Sullivan, their national coach.
The Irish RFU is in the uneasy position of knowing they only handed O'Sullivan a new, lucrative four-year contract six months ago but felt the need to put out a statement on Sunday underlining plans to review recent games.
Philip Browne, the IRFU chief executive, said: "The IRFU shares in the disappointment from an Irish perspective and will be undertaking a detailed review of our performance. Our objective in this, as always, will be to ensure the Irish rugby team has in place the optimal structures to allow it to perform at the highest levels into the future."
Hadden will face a similar review of the Six Nations, though it remains unclear who will assess his performance from a rugby standpoint. Gordon McKie, the SRU chief executive, was unavailable for comment yesterday, but he and Hadden are expected to lead the review. Without a director of rugby to call on, however, how well-placed is McKie to judge Hadden?
The Scotland coach has struggled to maintain the level of development he uncovered with seven wins in 14 Tests over his first 18 months in charge, steering his squad to just six victories in the 17 internationals of the past 14 months. More than half of his victories have come against currently lower-ranked nations, namely Romania (thrice), Italy (twice), Samoa, Pacific Islands, and Portugal – with France, England (twice), Wales and Ireland the great occasions where he inspired Scotland to punch above its weight.
Yet it is less the statistics, as many Scotland teams have endured horrible winless runs, and more the uncomfortable changing of style and loss of direction that one feels is undermining the current coaching team.
Hadden spoke again at the weekend of his love of the job, the pride and honour he feels in being the national rugby coach in Scotland, even though it brings the most widespread criticism and opprobrium when things do not go to plan. It is similarly symptomatic of the intensity, respect for and passionate interest in the RBS Six Nations Championship that the result of failure is a heck of a lot more disenchantment than in any other event, even the World Cup.
Hadden, O'Sullivan and Ashton felt terrific pressure in that tournament last year, for the Celts simply to get their team to the quarter-finals and for England's chief to retain the trophy, but still, perhaps, it does not compare with the demands and expectations of nations in the northern hemisphere's great spring battles.
That may bring some perverse pleasure to tournament organisers, but it does little this week to ease the heat on three of the UK's leading coaches.
LIONS JOB APPEALS TO GATLAND
WALES coach Warren Gatland has revealed an interest in leading the British and Irish Lions' 2009 tour of South Africa.
Gatland would also like his right-hand man during Wales' RBS Six Nations Grand Slam success, Shaun Edwards, to be involved.
New Zealander Gatland, 44, has revived Wales after a dismal World Cup, and he insists he will remain focused on that job should a Lions position come along.
Gatland told BBC Radio Five Live: "If there's a chance to get involved at some level that would be a huge honour but I have to make sure I don't neglect Wales.
"I'm not going to get ahead of myself – in the past other coaches have been involved with the Lions and haven't made their own job with their own nation the number one priority."
Gatland and Edwards have enjoyed a hugely successful partnership having previously guided Wasps to Guinness Premiership and Heineken Cup glory.
EDINBURGH 'Kids 4 Free'
EDINBURGH have launched a new deal to attract young fans. The 'Kids 4 Free offer' will allow four under-18s to watch Friday night's Magners League game against Connacht for free when accompanied by a paying adult.
Scotland captain Mike Blair is expected to be fit for the match, and the Thistle Suite will stage a 'Kids Party' (6-7.30pm).
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
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Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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