Backroom boys take a bow
May 14, 2012
Exeter boss Rob Baxter collects the Director of Rugby of the Season honour at last week's Aviva Premiership awards © Getty Images
Well - that went quickly didn't it. Never have I known a rugby season to fly by so rapidly! It might not have been a vintage season of Premiership rugby, it rarely is during a World Cup year, but let's not devalue the memorable matches we've witnessed, the great achievements of some, and brilliant performances of others.
For me this season will belong to the coaches - almost as much as the players. In a season where we've seen big changes in the management of the national side, the backroom Premiership staff were not to be outdone.
We had the Aviva Premiership awards this week at London's Park Lane Hilton and while watching the Premiership big hitters step out of their imposing black Land Rovers I was reminded of the expertise that we have in this league - and not only on the field. The directors of rugby and coaches are often the fall guys when things go wrong and don't always win the plaudits when things go well. Between them this season, however, they've caused a stir.
Conor O'Shea , Richard Cockerill and Rob Baxter were on the short list for QBE Director of the Season award with each one deserving the honour. O'Shea's Harlequins, always known for their expansive rugby, have developed a harder edge up front. Finishing at the summit of the league made him a likely and worthy candidate.
Then there was Cockerill. After winning 14 of their last 16 matches they are at home in the play-offs. The Tigers in another semi-final - surprise, surprise! Well, yes it is, considering they were in 11th place in October after a disastrous start to the season with World Cup absentees aplenty and an injury-ridden squad.
But the winner was Baxter - and few could argue that he didn't deserve the honour. What he has achieved with Exeter in just two Premiership seasons is remarkable. Flying out of the Championship they have been a revelation. From a squad containing few household names outside Devon, Baxter has created a forced to be reckoned with and, in the process, has secured Heineken Cup rugby at Sandy Park next season.
While we look at the directors of rugby and head coaches who have achieved great things one cannot forget those among the management who have had it a little tougher. As I look at the end of regular season league table only the top five sides and Worcester have seen no upheaval in back-room staff over the last 12 months.
So, should not stability at the top, patience, and belief in those appointed to do a job, be the way forward?
Let's start at the bottom and work our way up - Alan Tait left the Falcons at Christmas, Dai Young came to Adams Park in the summer, Bryan Redpath has parted ways with Gloucester, Steve Meehan said his goodbyes at The Rec and now have Ian McGeechan and Martin Haag.
Brian Smith came to London Irish while Toby Booth and crew have all left and then there's Sale Sharks. Well, after wholesale changes both on and off the field in the summer, Steve Diamond brought Tony Hanks in to steer the ship - Diamond thought the ship was sinking, though, which meant Hanks had to walk the plank.
With the off-season fast approaching there again seems to be almost as many coaching appointments as there are player announcements with a number of coaches swapping services from one big club to the other.
So as we say goodbye to the 2011-12 season I feel that the coaches' Premiership revolving door will keep on turning. Who will pop up where next is anyone's guess!
ESPN has exclusively live coverage of the Aviva Premiership final on May 26 and will bring fans the match in 3D for the first time in the history of the season-ending decider.
This article first appeared in The Rugby Paper on May 13, visit www.therugbypaper.co.uk
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Sarra Elgan is an ESPN roving reporter
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September