Rugby union is poaching our coaches again - it’s weird but flattering

22 June 2019 - Written by Zack Wilson

It has been confirmed over the last week or so that two coaches will be departing from Super League clubs to work in rugby union.

Sean Long will be leaving St Helens and starting his tenure at rugby union outfit Harlequins on July 8, when the London-based outfit’s preseason starts.

It has also been revealed that Martin Gleeson has left Salford to join Coventry-based Wasps as assistant attack coach.

Gleeson will be working with head coach Dai Young at Wasps, a man with a rugby league background of his own, being one of the few rugby union props to convert successfully to league.

Union seems to go on these cross-code raids to poach coaching talent from time to time, almost like it’s a fashion that comes and goes.

Long is a man who has always danced to his own tune, and he has a wry and often slightly surreal take on life.

He also played a bit of grassroots rugby union for Preston Grasshoppers after retiring from playing rugby league.

As a side issue, the idea of someone from Sean Long’s humble Lancashire background working at a club like Harlequins, which even other rugby union clubs tend to characterise as a bunch of snobs, is really amusing.

"It's time for me to pursue a new challenge," said Long. "Quins are a top club with a group of talented players and hard-working staff. I can't wait to join up with them.

"I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone in rugby league for the time I have had there, but now I'm focused on Harlequins and am looking forward to getting started on the preparations for next season."

Wasps are clearly happy that Gleeson has joined them to.

"I'm pleased to have found Martin, who is an exciting young coach," said Young, who himself played for Leeds and then spent five years at Salford in the 1990s, before returning to union when it went professional.

"He has forged a very strong reputation as a quality coach within rugby league, having made a big impact with Salford."

The key issue here is that our coaches clearly know what they are doing. Certain knowledge, especially when it comes to attacking and defensive structures, translates well across both codes of rugby.

Rugby league has refined and tested much of its ideas over more than a century of professionalism, and it continues to innovate.

Our coaches know their stuff and know how to communicate ideas - look at how many of them have excelled in northern hemisphere rugby union.

Sean Edwards, Phil Larder, Andy Farrell, Mike Ford - these are just some of the names who have established strong reputations in the other code.

It begs the question as to how good union’s coach development is - that they need to keep taking coaches from our code.

It’s odd that a sport of such wealth and global influence needs to find coaches in a code that many of their adherents openly see as an inferior sport.

But we should probably take it as a compliment, as well as a sign that our sport has significant strengths that we should celebrate more often.

It’s a form of flattery, but it’s also a sign that we need to offer young coaches more in order to get them to stay in the 13-man code.

A stronger international game, including international club competition, a bigger media profile and the capacity to earn more money are all factors that need to be looked at.

But for now all we can do is wish Long and Gleeson well and hope that they will be back where they belong soon.

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