In the week that one Gala-born coach in his mid-forties announced his first ever Scotland squad, another Gala-born coach in his mid-forties may just have suffered a pang of regret at what might have been. A former halfback partner of Gregor Townsend, Bryan Redpath was fancied to take over the Scotland reins at international level but now the former Gloucester and Sale Sharks head coach is quitting the game for good to take up a position in finance with foreign exchange specialists Afex. What pushed him over the edge?
“A couple of things really,” Redpath replies. “Whether or not I was going to get another shot in the Premiership? I have been out for two years and if you don’t get back in it becomes harder every year. Obviously the divide between the Championship and Premiership only gets bigger and if you don’t get back in at the right time you can miss the boat.
“Around Christmas time I was a little unsure of what was going to happen to me in Yorkshire [Carnegie] and then this opportunity came up out with the game.
“In some ways you can’t really trust many people now in rugby as much as you used to, so I had to make a big decision. It is going to be tough, it is going to be hard to get my head around it but I am pretty comfortable with it now and I just want to get on with a new chapter in my life.
“To be honest, players are different these days and so are owners. They are not all of a sporting mentality but rather a business mentality and that takes the enjoyment out of it. We are all competitors but sometimes you don’t get a chance to compete as much as you’d like. It’s hard, and I know that is what you sign up for, but isn’t as much fun as it used to be.”
Redpath is quitting rugby but not just yet. Yorkshire Carnegie, the club he led to second place in the Championship, have a two-legged final to get through before the Borderer can throw his boots in the bin. London Irish boast the budget and the squad to start as firm favourites but stranger things have happened. Should Carnegie upset the odds and the exiles, Redpath’s last ever coaching endeavour would rank as his finest.
It appears unlikely. The English Premiership have long coveted a closed league and now they effectively have one. Such is the disparity in budget and class between the Premiership and the second tier Championship that almost no one can make promotion stick. London Welsh famously failed to win a single match in 2014-15. This season Bristol, well funded by millionaire Steve Lansdown (of Hargreaves Lansdown), managed just three victories all season.
Two of the four Championship semi-finalists (Ealing and Doncaster) would have spurned the offer of promotion had they won because of a lack of facilities and backers. So should they spring a surprise over Irish this Wednesday and next will Yorkshire Carnegie have the wherewithal to survive in the rarefied atmosphere of the Premiership ?
“You can’t see it,” Redpath replies bluntly. “If we did get promoted you have to look who we are competing against. Where do you find the players that can compete week in and week out at that level? It would be a hell of hard job. I can only see it being a really tough environment.
“I’d love it to be something that we could compete at, and you never know, but I would say that is is very unlikely that we could compete with anybody [in the Premiership] at the moment.”
As a player Redpath rarely put a foot wrong, 60 caps for Scotland, 26 as captain, a rare 1995 win in Paris and a bizarrely comfortable 21-6 win over the Boks in 2002.
As a coach, life proved a little harder. He took Gloucester to third in the Premiership in 2011 (they finished ninth this time out) and won the LV Cup that same season.
But an ill-advised move to Sale resulted in a string of seven losses and Steve Diamond was parachuted in over the Scot just four months in. With the benefit of hindsight, Redpath concedes that he should have stayed at Kingsholm and he appears no wiser now than he was at the time as to why he tripped up at the Manchester club where he played with such distinction.
Ever the optimist, Redpath insists that he learned a lot from what was a difficult time in his life and he probably emerged better for it if only on the basis of what doesn’t kill you…
The job will change but Redpath will stay in Manchester were the family has been based ever since he finished his playing days with the Sharks. The elder son Cameron attends Seburgh School (Will Carling’s alma mater) while turning out for Sale Academy and, err, England age grade teams.
His father may have led his country with distinction but after a season with Scotland U16s, Cameron Redpath captained England U17s throughout the year and featured in every England 18s match, either starting or off the bench, including a 45-24 win over Scotland, when he even claimed one of the English tries.
“I just want what’s best for him,” says a proud dad. “He understands that a Premiership coach given the choice of a Scottish qualified player or an English qualified player, is always going to pick the English qualified player. That is how it is. It’s his choice at the end of the day.
“When Cameron played against Scotland, he sang both of the anthems. It was quite funny watching him. He saw me in the crowd laughing at him singing Flower of Scotland. ‘You’d better sing up son!’
“He has a lot of respect for the Scottish boys and what they are but he understands the opportunities he may have developing with England. England playing him at ten, 12 and 15 because it’s good for his game although I think he’ll end up as a centre.
“They had him at Pennyhill Park [England’s training centre] getting kicking coaching from Jonny Wilkinson alongside Owen Farrell and George Ford. England are really good at getting the young boys in to learn off the older players.”
In all, three exiles from the Scotland U16 squad of last season found themselves sporting England’s red rose on their chest this season, Andy Christie and Fraser Dingwell the other two. This is partly down to the funding requirements of premiership academies but also because the RFU’s youth development is exceptional.
If Michael Lynagh’s son can turn out for England U16’s we probably shouldn’t grouse. Moreover, the success of Cameron and his younger brother Murray provide the last piece of the puzzle as to why Redpath is walking away from the game that has been his life for over thirty years.
“There is something else,” he says in a belated response to my original question. “ I’d love to see the kids do a bit more because as a coach you have a lot of weekends away and you miss a lot of their development of just being boys.”