Gaffney takes Saints' reins

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Veteran Australian coach Alan Gaffney is heading to England, taking the reins at Northampton for the rest of the season.

The Saints played their final game before Gaffney's arrival, a 50-21 loss to Harlequins,a fortnight after announcing the sacking of near-decade-long mentor Jim Mallinder.

Australian Saints centre Rob Horne told the BBC he felt Gaffney would bring a fresh voice to Northampton, amid a mediocre year.

"To have a new voice come in and a different look and perspective on that game can only bring the most out of players," Horne said. 

"He has seen it all.

"I'm excited to see what Alan decides to do because he's a smart rugby coach. He sees what he has got and creates a game plan around what he has got. It's not a one size fits all, he works with what he has.

"Fortunately at Saints we've got a lot of talented individuals but we need to be at our best."

Gaffney's addition is a coup for the English club, the Australian having had success around the globe, including helping Ireland to a 2009 Six Nations Grand Slam as well as clinching trophies with clubs in Ireland and England.

Horne returned from suspension for the clash. Photo: Getty ImagesIn Australia, he has previously been a Waratahs assistant and last year, he was an attack consultant with the Western Force.

Northampton CEO Mark Darbon said Gaffney would be a strong interim appointment, as the club looks for a permanent replacement for Mallinder

"We are delighted to have recruited Alan as our technical coaching consultant until the end of the season,” said Northampton Saints CEO Mark Darbon.

“Alan is hugely experienced and admired throughout the game for being a forward thinking, innovative rugby coach," he said.

"His CV speaks for itself; he has been successful with some of the best teams in the world – including winning a Six Nations Grand Slam and Heineken Cup – and has a clear understanding of how to set-up an effective all-around rugby team. He also has a proven track record of developing some of the world’s best coaches and players. 

“Alan will take on responsibility for the rugby department and will lead the existing coaching group made up of Alan Dickens, Dorian West, Mark Hopley and Phil Dowson.

Allan Gaffney gave his thoughts on the U20s performance. Photo: ARU Media“In parallel, the Board will continue to focus on the recruitment of a permanent Director of Rugby to be in place for the start of the 2018/19 season. As I have said previously, there has been a great deal of interest in this vacancy and we hope to be able to announce this appointment in the coming months.”

Gaffney said he was looking forward to the challenge.

“I am really excited about the challenge ahead,” said Gaffney.

“Any coach would jump at the chance to work with the calibre of players Saints have. The squad have shown what they’re capable of earlier in the season but, for whatever reason, they have not been able to perform at that level consistently.

“I’m looking forward to working with Alan Dickens, Dorian West, Mark Hopley, Phil Dowson and the rest of the back-room staff from the start of the new year.”

Gaffney's is not the only fresh Australian move around the Premiership.

Nic Stirzaker has re-signed with the Rebels. Photo: Getty ImagesRumours persist that Rebels halfback Nic Stirzaker has signed a short-term contract with Saracens in London.

Stirzaker was believed to be on the verge of heading overseas permanently at the end of the 2017 season, but was re-signed to the Rebels, before they signed both Will Genia and Michael Ruru for 2018.

Saracens have been hit with major injury concerns this season and rugby directory Mark McCall had hinted at the need for another nine.

Though Stirzaker's acquisition has not been formally confirmed, he was on the bench of their win last weekend, though not in the matchday squad.

A number of Aussies have taken up short-term options overseas this summer, with hooker James Hanson recently extending his stay in Gloucester, while Rebels lock Steve Cummins has already committed to Welsh side Scarlets, both leaving Melbourne a year earlier than expected.