So the wait is finally over, and Cardiff Blues have announced that John Mulvihill will take over as head coach in the summer when Danny Wilson departs after three years at the helm.
It’s been a long five months for supporters, with multiple names linked ranging from Super Rugby winning Chris Boyd, to relative unknowns like Paul Feeney. However, the length of the search is now in the past, and the future is John Mulvihill.
At this point one would imagine there is some confusion how to react to the appointment of a man that very few Cardiff Blues fans would have heard of, unless they have an interest in the mid to late 2000s Western Force, or the Japanese domestic rugby setup. Even Andy Howell was not accurate when looking at his career history.
The truth is that John Mulvihill hasn’t exactly taken the well-trodden path to the role of Cardiff Blues head coach, starting out at Navan RFC, just outside of Dublin, before finishing with the Honda Heat in Suzuka, via the Gold Coast and Perth in his native Australia.
A 20-year career that so far has not included a top job in a professional environment, nor has it left Japan at any point over the last nine years. There is always a risk element when appointing a head coach, this would appear to be it in this instance.
The flip side, though, is two fold.
Firstly, John Mulvihill is not the first southern hemisphere coach to be appointed by a professional side in the northern hemisphere without any serious head coach experience.
Perhaps the best example is Leinster in 2005, when their Chief Executive Mick Dawson described appointing a then unknown Michael Cheika as a ‘calculated punt’. With his only experience being in the Sydney Premier Rugby competition, he went on to win the Celtic League in 2008 and the Heineken Cup in 2009, and is now Australia coach.
Cardiff also have precedent in this area, with the appointment of David Young in 2002 as a player-coach. Young would stay as coach through the 2003 shake-up, securing the re-branded Cardiff Blues our first silverware with the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2009 and the Amlin Challenge Cup in 2010.
Going slightly further back, when Alec Evans arrived at the club in 1992 there wasn’t a great deal known about the member of Australia’s backroom staff who had been successful in the Brisbane area. However, he would transform Cardiff from a bottom of the table side to Welsh League and Cup glory.
Revered by fans who remember those days in the 90s, it is pleasing to know that Evans himself has recommended Mulvihill to Cardiff Blues, having worked with him in Queensland when our new head coach returned to Australia from his stint in Ireland.
The second aspect of Mulvihill being a solid appointment are his coaching attributes. He has a proven track record of development, grounded in his career as a schoolteacher, and through roles at Queensland Regional Rugby College and the Gold Coast Breakers.
During his time at Western Force he is credited with uncovering James O’Connor as a 17-year-old, and Drew Mitchell became a regular member of the Wallabies setup under his tutelage. He was also in charge of the Perth Spirit, in the pre-cursor to Australia’s National Rugby Championship.
That side included the likes of Cameron Shepherd, Nick Cummins, David Pocock and Scott Fardy, who would all go on to be Australian internationals, and who Mulvihill would take to the semi-finals in the one and only season the competition ran.
As well as that development background, which is crucial for Cardiff Blues currently with the current crop of exciting youngsters, Mulvihill is also renowned for placing a high emphasis on the skill level of his players, something which we’ve been unfortunately lacking in recent years.
Writing a paper for a Rugby Australia coaching qualification, Mulvihill’s first line is, “the greatest problem with coaching today is that a majority of coaches fail to coach.” A clear indication of his intention to be a hands-on coach, and as he goes on to talk of “the absence of skill being the footnote to a poor game”, it’s obvious he wants his teams to entertain.
Combine that coaching philosophy with the human traits of being no-nonsense and a seriously hard worker, and Mulvihill would seem to have the skillset to take Cardiff Blues forward.
He may not be the biggest name in the rugby coaching world, but he’s served a lengthy coaching apprenticeship, working under the likes of Evans and former New Zealand coach John Mitchell, and clearly feels the time is right to step up to the top job.
There’s bound to be a period of settling in required as with any new head coach appointment, but in these times of off-field turmoil, on-field stability will be key, and Mulvihill deserves our full backing.
Patience will be the name of the game and he must be given time and space to implement his own style upon the Cardiff Blues. No board interference, just Mulvihill being trusted to do his own thing and get it right on and off the field.
The search has taken long enough, and there is learning to be done by both Cardiff Blues and the Welsh Rugby Union in that respect, but if Mulvihill is allowed to get things done his way hopefully there won’t be a need to go through this last six months again in a hurry.
Time will tell if this is the man to lead us back to where we belong, but one thing is for certain, he’s got a great chance of doing that with the playing foundations laid at the Arms Park. Come on Cardiff!