THE IRISH coach who rejected an approach from the Scottish Rugby Union this week has laughed off suggestions that he had not been offered a job.
Roly Meates, a 65-year-old specialist coach with Leinster, said it was he rather than the SRU who pulled the plug on the deal to join the new management team at Murrayfield as a scrummaging coach.
In explaining his reasons for attending an interview with Bill Watson, the SRU chief executive, Ian McGeechan, the national coach, and Matt Williams, who will replace McGeechan after the World Cup, it was clear Meates’ loyalty to Leinster had a major bearing on his decision to stay with the Irish province.
"I was very honoured and hugely interested at the prospect of working with Matt again, and particularly on an international level," said Meates. "I have enjoyed working with Matt as he takes the game on to new levels and that still excites me.
"But the other side of the coin was that I have had a lifetime involvement with Leinster and Irish rugby, and all the social and personal issues that go with that are very strong. Leinster is going through a period of change, which is nothing unusual in rugby, but it is important that we work hard to help the team through it.
"The idea that I wasn’t offered any job is funny because Matt was very, very persuasive in getting me across there, and he told me he was acting on behalf of the SRU in offering me the chance to work with him at Murrayfield. I’m happy I went through the process and while I have decided it is not right for me at this moment in time, in different circumstances it could have been, so I wouldn’t rule it out in the future."
A straight-forward character, Meates’ love of Ireland shines through in his speech. He has coached Dublin University for 28 years and he was the head coach at Leinster for five years before taking over as Ireland coach from 1975 to 1977. A widely respected figure, Meates was chairman of selectors when Ireland won the Triple Crown in 1983 and has proven a popular coach since returning to Leinster where he worked with Williams before the latter agreed to join Scotland.
Yet he rejects the notion that his trip to Scotland was never likely to see him switch allegiance. "There is an internationalism of coaches now around the world," he said, "where people enthusiastically cross boundaries that you just wouldn’t have contemplated ten years ago. If you have expertise in a certain field then I feel you should make the most of that and working in international rugby is something that would always appeal."
With Williams already seeking an assistant coach with forwards-coaching experience, there is perhaps not a pressing need for Meates to join the management at the end of this year. Williams might be tempted to leave it a season and try to persuade Meates again next summer, as he begins a three-year countdown to the 2007 World Cup.
However, the SRU must first deal with the turbulence caused by the revelation in The Scotsman last Thursday that they were talking to another overseas coach. The reaction of domestic coaches was not favourable and goes some way to explaining the denial issued by the SRU on Tuesday in which the Union claimed Meates was never offered the post.
That response throws up more questions. Did McGeechan or Watson over-rule Williams’ first attempt to appoint someone to his coaching team? McGeechan said in June that he would take a step back from the national team when he moved upstairs to become the SRU’s director of rugby after the World Cup. But, the issue concerning most is whether the SRU could import an entire foreign coaching team. While there is no obvious Scottish candidate to become Williams’ right-hand man - a forwards coach - there is a number of Scots with ambition who could fulfil lesser roles within a new coaching hierarchy.
Henry Edwards, Edinburgh’s assistant, has six years’ experience at professional level allied to work with age-group international sides and time spent under the wing of Laurie Mains at the New Zealand Rugby Academy. Eddie Pollock, the Scotland Under-21 coach, is a leading scrummaging expert , while former Scotland props Peter Wright and George Graham, former hookers Colin Deans, Kevin McKenzie and Gary Callander, ex-Lions No8 Iain Paxton and Dave Cockburn of Peebles have all attracted plaudits for their work with forwards. David Leslie is another on the fringes.
It would be understandable if some of them were upset at failing to warrant a mention as the Union hunts a specialist to replace the retiring Jim Telfer.
None of those mentioned possesses the international coaching experience - nor perhaps the knowledge - of Meates, so again one can understand why, in aiming for the best, the SRU went for the Irishman. International rugby is about competing with the very best and winning, of course, and inexperience can be seen as too big a risk in the fast-paced world of modern Test rugby. But, with Meates declining the chance, there represents an opportunity to nurture home-bred talent by taking a Scot on board, perhaps as a forwards or set-piece specialist as opposed to a dedicated No2.
The onus falls also, however, on the shoulders of the aspirants. Great opportunities now exist for ambitious and talented forwards coaches in Scotland. If it is the case that there are too few to pick from then this merely highlights the failure of the SRU’s coach development programmes of the last 20 years. An improved structure is now in place and aspiring native coaches must not waste time in thrusting themselves forward.
•Jonah Lomu was back in training for his provincial side Wellington yesterday, just three months after he began dialysis treatment for nephrotic syndrome, a rare kidney disease. The giant winger completed a training session lasting over two hours.
Wellington have an National Provincial Championship (NPC) warm-up match this weekend and Lomu is available for the match for selection.