After what seems like a prolonged wait, New Zealand Rugby have released news that the NZ Sevens Head Coach will be experienced sevens and rugby coach Clark Laidlaw.
The much discussed selection process had been long and seen much speculation, but the common thinking that Scotland-born Laidlaw was being canvassed for the role, has proved true. The former Scottish sevens player is a highly skilled and respected leader, currently the assistant coach of London Irish.
Laidlaw will take up his new role as All Black Sevens coach from 1 June 2017.
Laidlaw appointed Head Coach of All Blacks Sevens
In a statement from New Zealand Rugby (NZR) Laidlaw said he was excited about the new role. “I am massively honoured to be coming back to coach a team I have always considered very special. I’m also excited about coaching a team I’ve previously worked with and played against. My goal is to develop a world class program that sees players peak at pinnacle events. Everything is going to be geared towards bringing home gold from Tokyo in 2020.
“I intend to build a technically, tactically and physically integrated program that grows great players and delivers success on the field. Sevens should be a route to develop players for Super Rugby and the All Blacks, and be an important part of players’ development pathways.”
That philosophy follows that of his predecessor Sir Gordon Tietjens. The super-coach introduced names to the sevens team who then progressed through the same channels–Ben Smith, Julian Savea and many more. Having worked with the All Black Sevens system already, Laidlaw will use that familiarity to underline his goals in 2017.
“I can’t wait to get started”- Laidlaw
“I’m excited to be coming back to New Zealand. I previously lived here for seven years, I’ve got great friends in the New Zealand rugby community and it’s where my wife and I want to raise our daughters. I can’t wait to get started. This is a great move for both me and my family, and I would like to thank London Irish and New Zealand Rugby for working together to make this move happen,” said Laidlaw.
— London Irish (@LiRFC) November 16, 2016
His appointment signals a change in policy for NZR–the organisation has solidly selected only local talent for senior coaching roles, so Laidlaw [from Scotland] is the first European coach to join the high performance role. His previous time with NZR will have helped with the decision, but it may open the door for other roles to be filled by overseas coaches.
General Manager of Rugby Neil Sorensen said appointing Laidlaw was about getting the best person for the job;
“We are very excited to have selected a coach of Clark’s calibre to lead the All Blacks Sevens to success at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“His specialist experience as both a sevens coach and player makes him uniquely qualified for this role. Our priority was getting the right coach with the long-term vision to win Olympic gold.”
A key decision which had taken time
NZR had seemed to be ‘treading water’ since former coach of 22 years, Tietjens, left the role. Few; including Last Word On Rugby, could understand the time this decision was taking. But now it is clear that employment and contract issues have surrounded the new appointment’s timing.
“So while we would have loved Clark to start straight away, we are happy to wait until next year because he is the best person for the job to build a winning sevens team over the long term,” was the clarification from Sorensen.
Interim coaching team to lead NZ Sevens
NZR has also announced that experienced sevens coaches, and former All Blacks Sevens players Scott Waldrom and Tomasi Cama will form the coaching team for the upcoming World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments starting in Dubai in December.
“We have established an interim coaching team to grow our sevens coaching depth. Scott and Tomasi are two young men with a lot of sevens experience already. But we’re excited about giving them the opportunity to step up and further develop their coaching skills,” said Sorensen in an NZR media release.
“Clark has the vision to develop an exciting sevens team and the skills to develop quality rugby players that will add to the pool of talent in the New Zealand rugby system. With a proven track record in rugby, he was an innovative coach of the Taranaki sevens team and a respected skills coach of the All Blacks Sevens. He is well known, and respected in rugby and it will be great to have him back here.”
Now the attention turns back to the players
Importantly, this now turns the attention from administration, firmly back onto the field. NZ Sevens Head Coach Appointed–check. Now both Waldrom and Cama must be given all the resources now needed to steer the Men’s Sevens team toward Dubai. It is a key step in a 10 round competition.
Much had been made of the fact that Fiji secured the title in 2016, prior to succeeding at the Rio Games. By achieving that status, the Fijian side; even with a new head coach themselves, will be favourites again. The title is a key toward building up to the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and then a step toward Japan in 2020.
Clark Laidlaw seems to have been the man that NZR had been wishing for. Established, with a good base of experience and also with an ambition to take the side in a new direction. That will be exciting when he steps into the role on June 1: only a week or two after the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series London tournament, 20-21 May 2017.
With that knowledge, LWOR wish both Waldrom and Cama all the very best leading up to the 2016/17 series, and congratulate Laidlaw on his appointment.
“Main photo credit”