Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, wonders how the Ian Peel deal can work with the clubs and the RFU and looks at a look-back of one Ireland’s finest.
Ian Peel starts work at Saracens this week as part of an RFU and club collaboration but what will the rest of the Premiership think about this cosy little relationship?
We know the union ran a bit rough-shod over Bristol, about the appointment of Steve Borthwick as forwards’ boss, and that one will still take a few quid out of the Twickenham coffers, so maybe the suits are trying to keep some very wealthy club owners on-side.
Northampton have got their knickers in a twist about the Alex King scenario – which will be sorted, one way or another this week, and maybe Ian Ritchie, the boss at Twickenham, and co are getting gun-shy after being so gung-ho since the World Cup with their hiring and firing.
With Northampton they seem to be going through the correct channels – actually talking to somebody’s employers before signing them up -,which is something of a first and last in recent months. Eddie Jones seems to want King – it is a boy meet girl, girl meet boy scenario and just get it on.
But this Peel deal just does not smell right.
Here are the facts.
Peel, Jones’ new scrum coach, will walk into the Sarries’ training complex near St Albans in the next couple of days and start tutoring the champions’ pack.
Jamie George, Mako and Billy Vunipola, Will Fraser, Maro Itoje and George Kruis will all be getting an earful from the Yorkshireman on the training paddock.
There is a more than even chance that most of them will be involved with England at Murrayfield in February when the next New England era kicks off.
But this is the tough bit. Peel will be working with the some of the same men – in the England camp on a temporary deal for the Six Nations – and with many of the players who will be playing against Saracens’ rivals when push comes to shove at the business end of the season.
So Peel will then be getting in the lug-holes of Tom Wood, Dylan Hartley, James Haskell, David Wilson, Chris Robshaw, Dan Cole, Tom Youngs and the rest over a six-quid skinny latte at Pennyhill Park.
Then he will be going back to Saracens to have a chinwag with Mark McCall – work that one out.
You would not be human if you did not reveal a few secrets that the Northampton, Leicester, Wasps, Bath or Exeter lads came up with over a cuppa in Bagshot. I will tell you my secret if you tell me your’s- and all that cobblers.
And it is not as if Saracens need any help anyway. Anyone who saw their demolition of Leicester on Saturday – when they became the first Premiership team to score three penalty tries – would know they have a monster scrum and a monster driving maul. They have a monster line-out and a monster kick-chase game as well, some handy backs and the best kicking scrum-half in England. That is hardly a state secret but some of the subtle nuances and training techniques might be.
So when Peel heads to England’s five-star gaff in Surrey in the next couple of weeks what sort of information will he feel able to reveal?
One highly distinguished former England player told me at the weekend that if he had been in the same situation, going into international training, he would keep schtum on certain things – so he could keep some ploys at arms’ length from his domestic rivals.
There could be a derby game coming up, when his club wanted to get one over their local enemies, or there could be a title on the line.
Another person, on a Premiership club’s staff, has already told his lads who are going to head on to England duty shortly, to keep certain tac-tics close to their chest. This is not really in the nation’s interest heading into the all-too-short-cycle of building for the next World Cup but the club’s really don’t give a monkey’s.
And you can’t really blame them.
How would you feel if a person you worked with at the government then went and did a bit of part-time yakka with a company elsewhere with, which was slightly lower down the food chain, and told them all the office secrets?
After all the England team depends on the clubs to supply the players.
Peel, by all accounts, is a decent man and this is no attempt to say he will be leaking state secrets to Sarries after he returns from England duty but you just have to wonder if the so-called brains trust at Twickenham has really thought this one through.
The Heads of Agreement deal between Twickers and the clubs is up in the air at the moment and due for renewal this summer. This is the umbilical cord that gives Jones proper access to his players and gives the clubs – who pay the grunt-and-grind merchants their wages – proper compensation for losing their star entertainers for a dozen weekends during the season.
It does not take the espionage skills of John le Carré to work out that is not right. Jones has enough on his plate trying to placate the English clubs without accusations of bias coming his way.
He has already poached Paul Gustard, from Saracens, to be his defence coach; Steve Borthwick, a former captain of Saracens, is his new forwards’ guru and now his scrum coach is going to be on loan to…….errrr…..Saracens.
Peel said the right things last week, through the relentless RFU press relations operation, which attributed the following quotes to him.
“I have been coaching within the RFU pathway for the last six years,” said Peel. “So this is a huge chance to go and coach seniors players at a quality club that performs at the highest level domestically and in Europe. I have no doubt it will be great environment to work in and there are a number of players who I have worked with within the England age-group set-up like Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Mako Vunipola. I am really looking forward to getting involved in the day-to-day and the hands-on coaching every week.”
Call me a cynic but this reeks of corporate BS. If I was Rob Baxter, Richard Cockerill, Dai Young, Conor O’Shea or Jim Mallinder – I would be having a word with the blazers at HQ before Peel gets his hands on my players – and tell the boys to keep their mouths shut before getting Ritchie to pay for the coffees.
Stephen Ferris’ autobiography landed on my doorstep a few weeks ago and it reminds you of the dangers of rugby. Ferris – for those who don’t know – was an Irish flanker who was forced to retire at the age of 28 because of persistent injuries. But as the Irish say: ‘Beee Jeesus; he could play’.
Ferris won 35 caps for Ireland, he should have won 100, but his career was cut short. He was box-office on the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa in 2009 before he was cut down on the training pitch in Springbok Land and had no time to recover before the Test series.
A few years’ ago I went to see a fitness coach who claimed the only man who had the physical prowess of the South Sea Islanders was Ferris- he was pumping 130kg in the gym as if he was the Vunipola brothers rolled into one.
Paul O’Connell was only doing 110kg and when Ferris went to join up with the Irish team for the first time O’Connell was in awe at his tin pushing.
O’Connell, one of the ultimate warriors, said to a team mate ‘that bloke is good in the gym – I hope he can play rugby’. He could, and his book is worth reading for anyone who wants to take up the most brutally, brilliant, game there is. Warts and all.