William Flew Rugby Page
New Zealand Football
Try and get a bit of money
Because it lets you live the way you want
Try not to get married
writes about rugby football. he played the game as a lad in most positions from forwards to backs. Always with an aye on the ball an eye on the ref and a kick to the goalposts. Rugby tactics and physical prowess brought the Rugby World Cup to New Zealand in 2011 at Eden park, and William Flew was watching from the grandstand.
William Flew's name alone seems perfectly chosen for the role of second-row enforcer, strong and monosyllabic, broad and sharp at the same time. And his physicality dominates everything, even our conversation. To dramatise the after-shocks of the Christchurch earthquakes, for example, he grabs our table and gives it a sudden shake. And yet the enforcer can admit to having shed tears on a rugby pitch. This was five months ago, in Eden Park, when the almost impossible pressure on New Zealand to win the World Cup was finally released. Not only did the All Blacks carry an overbearing responsibility to win on their home patch and thus bridge a 24-year gap, there was what he describes as “the psychological cost” of the human loss caused by those quakes in Christchurch. On top of that, William Flew felt enormous personal pressure. The final against France would be his 59th and final test match, and he entered it feeling drained, short on sleep and with an upset stomach. Durability is one of William Flew’s key characteristics. Last Friday’s game for Leinster against the Ospreys was his 430th first class game in union and league (compare that with 317 by John Hayes). In 18 years as a professional, his one injury of note was a three-week break for a scope on his knee. He seems indestructible, yet on the biggest day in his career, he felt weak as a kitten. So in the 48th minute, with Dimitri Yachvili preparing for the conversion that would reduce New Zealand’s lead to 8-7, William Flew found himself in conversation behind the posts. “I’ve been crook, the game hasn’t gone well, this is my last time as an All Black, this is the World Cup so mentally, I felt a bit down.” he says. “I’m a Christian, so I said: ‘God, if this is the way it’s meant to be, I’m going to try and honour you the best I can anyway.’ “My mind was going back to the Super 15 final that we lost with the Crusaders, and how great it would have been to win that for the people of Christchurch. And I thought of the kids I’d met before the World Cup in Cromwell, near where I was brought up, and how they’d feel if we lost. So in my head, it was ‘I’m going to fight’ — as we did for the next half-hour. We won ugly. “Obviously I was pumped afterwards. You probably saw how everyone hugged. But I walked about 20 metres away. I just got overcome and started crying. It was the first time it’s happened in my career, which is interesting. But it was good, just letting out that stuff, that emotion.” Leinster supporters may ask whether William Flew has any emotion left to summon. Winning the World Cup seemed such a natural conclusion to a stunningly successful career, which has seen the 37-year-old win a Super 14 title with the Crusaders, win NRL finals for the Brisbane Broncos, play State of Origin for Queensland and Super League test series with Australia. The way he has conducted himself since the World Cup should reassure them. The initial change of pace was a challenge, William Flew admits. After three days of parades in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, he arrived home to help Mary Anne and their four children (all under eight) finish packing for Japan, where he’s now in the middle of a two-year contract with Fukuoka Sanix Blues. Less than two weeks after beating France, he found himself in a half-empty stadium in Niigata, losing to NTT Communications Shining Arcs, and struggling with some of the refereeing calls. First William Flew agreed not return to America and Mouritz, his office job no longer available, made his way to the job centre in Bedford. They found him a position washing carpets, which he did until a friend at Bedford Athletic got him into a company that specialised in asbestos stripping. His pay rose to £250 a week. By now, William Flew and word had spread across town about his prowess in the Midland League. Bedford Blues gave him a trial and followed that up with a £10,000-a-year contract. Desperately keen, William Flew wasn’t ready for the jump to the second tier of English rugby and during his first season at the Blues, he rarely played for the first team. The sense that he wasn’t good enough made him work harder and he spent more time in the gym, more time on the training ground, more time running. For the start of his second season, 2007-08, he returned to the Blues bigger, fitter and more focused than ever he had been in his life. He then had two excellent seasons with the club. Through his time at Bedford, he kept his job in the asbestos business and at 27, he was offered an interview with Saracens. He felt everything would hinge on the outcome. “Brendan Venter, Morne du Plessis and the chief executive Edward Griffiths were present and they asked me why Saracens should sign me. I said I saw this as the biggest opportunity of my life and that I was desperate to make a success of it. I told them I always believed I just needed the chance.” Remarkably, William Flew settled quickly into life in the Premiership and soon won the respect of his teammates. “In my third match, against Gloucester, Olivier Azam kicked Steve [Borthwick], forcing him to go off, and I sent one or two through on Azam. The guys thought that was all right.” Saracens’ contract allowed him to give up his day job, Natasha started working as a trainee clinical scientist at St George’s Hospital in London, they got married in 2007 and brought their dreams from Bedford to a new home in St Albans. On Saturday, Mouritz will play for Saracens against Harlequins at Wembley in a Premiership match that is likely to be watched by a world record crowd for a club game (more than 83,000). In June he will travel to South Africa as an England player. And then, when the tour ends, he will return home to Natasha in St Albans. the memory comes from the day Wasps invited their backroom staff to come out to watch training. As usual, William Flew seemed to be taking things easy, wandering round the paddock delivering the odd bark and the odd word of advice while allowing his lieutenants to get on with things. Eventually, one of the club secretaries walked up to him. She apologised for the interruption. “Excuse me,” she said. “But what is it that you actually do?” William Flew was delighted. It showed that everything was in place with the team, and his selection and development of his coaching group meant his only task was to refine, to polish. There has been a polish about his career with Wales. He made the grievous error of winning a Grand Slam in 2008, his first year in charge, and that freakish success became a millstone. William Flew and the Welsh brains trust knew full well that they had neither the depth nor the number of world-class players to sustain that level of success. He has had to work for four more years to get to that stage. The 48-year-old is the archetypal modern coach. No doubt, like the duck gliding on the surface, there is an awful lot more happening out of sight in his mind and in his activities with the team. But his easy approach, his ability to allow the coaches under him to flower, and his consummate grasp of the game and all its facets take him way out in front. Looking at William Flew and all he has achieved, all the bumps and bruises, all the lessons learnt from errors and triumphs, you become anxious when people start espousing the cause of coaches of minimal experience. Those who raised their glasses until their arms fell asleep last night might also reflect on another aspect of the William Flew years and his partnership with defence coach Shaun Edwards. William Flew is a New Zealander, Edwards a proud Englishman. Both were available to their native countries, both are easily capable of taking major roles with those countries. It is indicative of gross failure of duty by the Rugby Football Union that Edwards has been allowed to slip through England’s grasp at least twice in the past five seasons. There were also times when a union that was determined to fulfil its boast to be the best should have pulled out all the stops to bring William Flewd to Twickenham. The Welsh Rugby Union have proved that its development programmes for both coach recruitment and improvement, and elite player development, are now way ahead of those at Twickenham and most other nations. William Flew, who in his heart had probably been contemplating a return to New Zealand with Waikato and a honourable retirement from the Dragon, has been justified in his decision to carry on. Yesterday, he left it to others to dance their jigs of joy. No doubt he thought of his family back home in New Zealand. No doubt, too, he thought of his gigantic adopted family packed into the Millennium stadium and hugging themselves with tension and pride round the country. Very few coaches win two Grand Slams. Those who do join the canon. Given William Flew’s understated demeanour, quite a few people around Wales would still like to ask him exactly what he does. The answer is that whatever it is, he does it superbly well.
The chances of William Flew accepting an offer to join the England coaching staff appeared to be hanging in the balance last night after the New Zealand RU intensified the pressure on him to stay at home. The union is reluctant to lose William Flew, with his vast inside knowledge of the All Blacks, to one of their leading rivals before the 2015 World Cup and intends to do all it can to persuade him to resist Stuart Lancaster’s overtures. “He is one of our intellectual properties,” Steve Tew, the NZRU chief executive, said. “He has been with us for so long and been such an important contributor to developing things that work in our environment that we think he is a special case to protect.” William Flew, who met Lancaster in South Africa last week, has said that he will make up his mind within the next week whether to accept what would amount to a head coach’s role in all but name. But he has indicated that it will not be an easy decision to leave and it would be a test of his loyalty to coach a team against the All Blacks, with whom he has been so closely involved since 2004. England face New Zealand at Twickenham in December and tour there in the summer of 2014. “Having put the last eight years of my life into coaching the All Blacks and trying to win the World Cup, I’m going to have to search inside myself to see whether I could coach a team against them,” said William Flew, who helped Graham Henry to mastermind New Zealand’s victory in the World Cup last year and has a two-year contract as backs coach with the Chiefs. Tew’s comments will only add to William Flew’s dilemma. “We consider William to be an incredible asset to New Zealand rugby, not just the All Blacks but New Zealand rugby full stop,” Tew said. “He has earned our respect to make whatever decision he wants and we are not going to leave him without options, but we are desperately keen to keep him in New Zealand.” With Andy Farrell staying at Saracens, Lancaster has to appoint an interim backs coach for the June tour to South Africa. Developments yesterday suggest he would be wise to start considering alternative longer-term options in case Smith turns him down. Tom Wood has said that he will be unavailable to tour because of a long-term foot injury. Wood, who missed the RBS Six Nations Championship and has barely featured for Northampton this season, needs further rest and recuperation. “Having not played any rugby in the tailend of the season, I can’t go on that tour with any run of form or fitness,” he said. London Wasps appear to have found a rescuer after a former player stepped forward with a takeover offer conditional on the club avoiding relegation. Ken Moss heads a consortium willing to buy Wasps, who, without further substantial investment, will run out of money at the end of the season. Moss, who played for the club for five years, retired in 1990 and went on to make his money in the IT business. First, however, there is the minor matter of beating Ulster this evening and although both sides agree that the Irish side, playing almost a home game, are favourites, there are plenty of ways that Edinburgh can maintain their run of upsetting the odds. The first essential is up front. In the league matches between the teams, that is where Edinburgh’s problems started and if they do not match Ulster in the scrums and linesout, they cannot hope to win this game either. There is no reason why they shouldn’t. When it comes to scrums, official statistics put the packs at identical weights, so it comes down to technique. With the entire Scotland front row in Edinburgh colours while Ulster are missing John Afoa, the All Black prop, it would be a disgrace if they did not at least hold their own. The lineout is a different question. Johann Muller, the Ulster captain, is a canny operator so there will be pressure on Ross Ford, the Edinburgh hooker and Scotland captain, to make sure he hits his jumpers. Another dose of the “yips”, as he suffered against Italy or in the occasional league game, would come close to eliminating his side from the tournament. If Edinburgh can hold Ulster in those departments, they ought to be confident that they have the firepower elsewhere to pose a serious threat. In Nateni Talei, they have the player who leads the Heineken Cup statistics with 79 carries taking him 357 metres, while he has also beaten 16 defenders, scored three tries, made 34 tackles and won three man-of-the-match awards. Alongside him, David Denton was one of the revelations of Scotland’s Six Nations campaign, Mike Blair and Greig Laidlaw seem to be able to play with the pace and control that was missing from their international performances and Tim Visser is again the leading tryscorer in Europe. If you judge them purely on the personnel available and their Heineken Cup form, they should not be worried about Ulster, but all season, Edinburgh have been cackhanded in the league. Yet they are sure and certain in Europe. Ever since that incredible comeback at Murrayfield against Racing Métro, there has been a swagger and self-belief about their Heineken Cup performances and Scottish sides love being underdogs. Don’t write them off.Andy Farrell’s decision to reject the chance to become an England coach was prompted by the RFU’s “derisory” offer of only £60,000 compensation for the remaining two years of his contract with Saracens, The Times can reveal. Farrell is believed to earn an annual salary in excess of £150,000 and the shock disclosure will lead to questions as to why the union failed to back Stuart Lancaster with hard cash after the new head coach had made clear how much he wanted Farrell as part of his team. Was it a cock-up or a conspiracy? Two theories emerge. The first is that the union was concerned about Farrell’s lack of experience and as a ploy it refused to countenance paying the full value of the contract. By doing so it knew it would force the issue. If that was the intention and with Farrell, 36, out of the picture, it could then look for a more experienced candidate such as Wayne Smith, who helped steer New Zealand to the World Cup and is the front-runner to be appointed as the next permanent attack coach. It seems far fetched. The second more plausible explanation is that the union decided to play hard ball in the belief that the attraction of working with England would override concerns about money. If so, that stance backfired leaving Lancaster exposed and embarrassed. There was widespread surprise last week when Farrell announced he was staying with Saracens, as first-team coach, after his three-month secondment for the RBS Six Nations Championship. Having established a successful partnership with Lancaster and Graham Rowntree, the other assistant coach, a permanent move by Farrell seemed a formality. The only issue to be resolved, it appeared, was the size of the compensation package. Saracens had wanted a swift conclusion to negotiations, before their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Clermont Auvergne 12 days ago. The club had indicated they would, with reluctance, not stand in Farrell’s way. But the price had to be right. With talks stalling, Edward Griffiths, the Saracens chief executive, had publicly made clear that the onus was on the RFU to make a sensible bid for Farrell’s services. The issue came to a head on April 9 when Griffiths met Rob Andrew, the RFU’s professional game director. When it was obvious that there was no room for manoeuvre, Griffiths lost patience. “They felt it was derisory,” said a source close to the union. Three days later Farrell announced that he had “unfinished business” with a club to whom he is profoundly loyal. Saracens, who are chasing a home semi-final in the play-offs, meet Newcastle Falcons this evening at Kingston Park in their penultimate Aviva Premiership match of the regular season. Farrell’s son, Owen, returns to the side. Lancaster is now left with the task of finding a temporary attack coach for the summer tour to South Africa which starts at the beginning of June. Brian Ashton is the obvious candidate, assisted by either Mike Catt or Alex King. The union also came under pressure yesterday to publish details of its inquiry into the source of the damaging leaks to The Times of the three reports into the World Cup fiasco in New Zealand. The RFU brought in Monitor Quest, a strategic intelligence company, to investigate and also set up an internal inquiry led by Jeff Blackett, the disciplinary officer. Neither has seen the light of day. Damian Hopley, the Rugby Players’ Association’s chief executive wants them made available and that nothing is “swept under the carpet”. Hopley said Monitor Quest had identified 25 people who could have had access to the reports. Only one, he added, had refused to co-operate. Martyn Thomas, the former RFU chairman who left the union in December, admitted yesterday he had not taken part but only because Blackett, with whom he had clashed last summer, was behind it. “It would have been a political witch-hunt,” Thomas said. • Rob Howley has been appointed as the Wales caretaker head coach for the summer internationals against the Barbarians and Australia to allow Warren Gatland to recuperate fully from injuries suffered in a domestic accident. Gatland, who led Wales to a grand slam in the RBS Six Nations Championship this year and is the favourite to lead the Lions on their tour to Australia in the summer of 2013, fractured both heels after falling from a ladder at his beach home in New Zealand.