It is rare that you can talk to someone who has’ been there and done it’. Indeed since the era of professionalism it is rare to even talk to someone regarding the inner workings of sport and get a straight answer. So when Frank Hadden starts telling you about the magic of the 6 Nations you know you have to sit up and listen. A.D. caught up with him earlier in the week.
“The 6 Nations is such a short, sharp event that pretty much anything can happen and one of the best things about it is that it is very difficult to predict,” claims the 56 year old Dundonian.
I believe him.
Last term Scotland finished 2nd bottom of the 6N table, a place Frank has finished before, but even a former national coach can get caught up in the confidence surrounding Scotland right now. “There are always good reasons why Scotland might struggle to make a real impact in the 6N but there are more reasons this year to give us grounds for optimism.
We have fewer injuries than usual, only 5 as far as I’m aware, in a maturing squad with greater depth than ever before. Playing the likes of New Zealand, England, Ireland or Wales first up with their longer preparation time will not be a factor as France have to deal with even greater disruption in the fortnight before it kicks off.”
He continues. “Without much in the way of preparation, the French could usually count on beating us up, up front, but our set piece is now world class and will not lack experience. We don’t lack for physicality these days and will not be bullied as has happened from time to time in the past. So with greater experience throughout the squad it is easier to blood outstanding prospects like Jo Ansboro, Richie Gray and Richie Vernon.”
It is hard to argue with him here. With 6 wins from our last 7 matches the national side are in impressive form and must be approaching every game on the horizon with victory in mind. Frank Hadden is, like us all, ultimately a supporter and so is heartened by our recent run of results but does concede that we seem to have experience more luck than usual heading into this 6N campaign.
“Ireland and Wales are not the forces they have been of late and both are more vulnerable in the tight, Ireland because they are struggling to find a replacement for John Hayes and Wales because of injuries to Jones and Jenkins. England are still in transition and have key injuries and France had a torrid time in November. As well as closing the gap on these 4 countries, I believe we have opened the gap with Italy.
Although we are struggling to score tries more than at any time in the last 10 years, our defence has improved out of all recognition and Dan Parks is unquestionably the best all round kicker of a rugby ball in the world.”
Frank has been out of the spotlight for a fair bit of time now but it is clear to see that he still cares a great deal about the game in Scotland. He acknowledges improvements in our set piece and defence while noting our continued deficiencies in the scoring department. He knows the innermost workings of the national team and if even he is impressed then it is surely an interesting time support the men in dark blue.
When asked about his continued relationship with rugby, however, the former Edinburgh Head Coach seams adamant that he is to continue his time as a spectator. When asked what he has learned since he has taken a step back from top level rugby he wryly responded, “I’ve learned that it’s good to take a step back.
At the moment I can honestly say I have no ambitions to return to the Pro game. There have been opportunities, but after being so immersed in the game for so long, 4 months working in Asia and 8 months on the golf course is not a bad way to spend your time!”
After holding such a high profile position it is understandable that this would be the case. 30 years coaching is a long time in anyone’s book, particularly if 17 of those have been with many different teams at Murrayfield. No one would begrudge him his time away and he seems genuinely refreshed from coaching abroad with the Penguins and the Penguin Coaching Academy.
When asked about the World Cup, though, you can tell Frank still thinks very much like a coach. “I think we will be going into the next World Cup with our strongest ever squad. That in itself does not guarantee success as there will be many good teams in the mix, but we will have an excellent chance of finishing 1st in our group and getting a favourable quarter final draw.
England and Argentina may both have greater resources but our squad is maturing nicely and the prospect of playing them is not daunting. We have beaten England twice since they last won the World Cup and Argentina 3 times in the same period. We also have much better spacing between the key games than we did last time out with virtually a full week to recover between Georgia, Argentina, England and the quarter final.”
Glad to have had some time out of ‘high performance’ rugby? Frank Hadden sure seems to be. You only have to look at his golf handicap to see that. Yet it is also obvious that he has an insightful and educated view on modern rugby. He implies that the level of time coaches get is directly dependant on results, fair or not, and that judgement will be one shared by fans, journalists and boards alike. I would suggest looking at the situation at Edinburgh to see this.
He could also talk at length about the relationship between a coach, the fans and the confrontational nature of the press as well as Scotland’s world class set piece or the 24/7 nature of professional coaching. Whatever this experienced and amiable coach decides to focus his attentions on, however, he will no doubt be cheering Scotland on with the rest of us.