Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rugby and soccer

I spent most of the last couple of months in Europe watching a mix of football and rugby. I must say I find it impossible to understand people who can’t get enjoyment from both games. The idea of being either a rugby fan or a football fan is so limiting. My suggestion? Put a bit of and/and into your life and start enjoying both! Besides, I increasingly find crossovers between the two sports. A classic example is the news that Sunderland manager, and ex Manchester United hero, Roy Keane, is coming to New Zealand as part of his coaching badge assignment to study with the All Blacks. This was arranged by one of our unsung coaching heroes, Ricki Herbert, a guy I came to know when I was on the Board of New Zealand Soccer a couple of years back. Ricki is an inspirational leader and an innovative thinker.

I’m glad the All Blacks have accepted Keane because there is no doubt that he has an inspirational belief and commitment rarely seen in modern day football. If he had been born in New Zealand, he would have been central to the game in the mould of Tana Umaga or Frank Bunce. He said, “I don’t know if I’ll be allowed into any team talks. I’ll keep my head down and just watch them; try to plug into what they are all about”. The idea of Keane with his head down keeping quiet is a novel one to say the least. I hope it’s an inspirational and beneficial partnership for both sides.

While all this has been going on, Nigel Melville and his team at USA Rugby have been making terrific progress. We’ve signed Scott Johnson as our National Coach, fresh from his successes in Wales and with the Wallabies. Scotty is a larger than life personality who will go down well with players and spectators in the US. He’s really bought into the adventure and challenge of inspiring all Americans to fall in love with rugby, and to take the Eagles onto the world stage. We’ve given him a four year contract so that he can use the time to maximum advantage and prepare for a Qtr Final run in New Zealand in 2011. We’ve got the Churchill Cup against England A, Argentina A, Ireland A, Canada in June, followed by two tough games against Clermont Auvergne and Munster. Then we tour Japan to meet Mr. Kirwan’s Cherry Blossoms in November. It’s going to be quite a year.