JON CARDINELLI turns the where-are-they-now concept on its head and reflects on the top Test coaches’ playing careers.
NOW: South Africa director of rugby
THEN: Springbok flank
Erasmus made his Test debut for South Africa against the British & Irish Lions in 1997. That proved to be a watershed season for the Springboks, as they bounced back from poor performances against the Lions and in the subsequent Tri-Nations to win all of their end-of-year tour fixtures in Europe.
New coach Nick Mallett backed players like Erasmus – who had a healthy appetite for opposition and game analysis in those days – and the Boks went on to equal the tier-one Test record of 17 consecutive wins. South Africa won their first Tri-Nations title during that run.
Erasmus was a versatile player. The loose forward’s resilience as well as his vision so often proved an asset to the Boks over the course of his 36-Test career. He led the national side in one Test back in 1999, as well as the Cats in the Super Rugby tournament. He turned his attention to coaching after struggling with injuries late in his career.
NOW: England coach
THEN: Randwick hooker (Australian club rugby)
Those who played club rugby in Australia back in the 1980s remember Jones as one of the local game’s most combative players.
‘Playing against Eddie was like being pestered by an annoying fly, always buzzing, always talking,’ former Wallabies hooker Butch Walker told the Guardian last year. ‘In those days, we had big front rows. Eddie was diminutive, but Randwick had a star-studded pack, as we did. He was very flexible and adapted his attributes to his team’s best advantage.’
The hooker never won a Test call-up, but did represent New South Wales B against the British & Irish Lions when they toured Australia in 1989. Jones later focused on teaching, and subsequently a coaching career.
NOW: Ireland coach
THEN: England centre
Farrell enjoyed a successful career in rugby league, winning four titles with Wigan and receiving the chance to lead Great Britain at the tender age of 21. He switched codes in 2005 and joined Saracens.
In 2007, Farrell travelled to the World Cup with England as a hard-running centre. He was part of the side that went down 15-6 to the Boks in the final.
After leading Saracens in the 2008-09 season, Farrell decided to retire and pursue a career in coaching. By 2008, his son Owen was already part of the set-up at Saracens.
NOW: All Blacks coach
THEN: Waikato Chiefs flyhalf
Foster played a record 148 games for Waikato over a career spanning 14 years. He represented the Chiefs during the early days of the Super 12, and kept Glen Jackson – who later went on to become an international referee – out of the starting lineup.
Foster went on to coach the Junior All Blacks and the Chiefs. He served on Steve Hansen’s coaching staff for eight years before receiving the All Blacks top job ahead of the 2020 season.
NOW: Argentina coach
THEN: Argentina hooker
Argentina are far more competitive nowadays than they were in the 1990s and early 2000s. And yet, many feel that they have lost the ability to dominate the set pieces and that the current pack does not compare to the ‘Bajada’ of yesteryear.
Ledesma – who played 84 Tests over a period of 16 years – was one of the keys to Argentina’s scrummaging success. He featured at four World Cups, and was at his very best when the Pumas progressed to the semi-finals – and ultimately finished third – at the 2007 tournament in France.
Ledesma went on to coach in France and Australia before taking up a senior position with the Jaguares in the Super Rugby tournament. In 2018, he replaced Daniel Hourcade as Argentina head coach.
NOW: Scotland coach
THEN: British & Irish Lions/Scotland flyhalf
Townsend played 82 games for Scotland and started in two Tests for the British & Irish Lions on their successful tour to South Africa in 1997.
The flyhalf also spearheaded the Scotland side that won the Five Nations Championship in 1999. Townsend scored a try against each country in that campaign, becoming only the fifth player in history to do so.
While he played most of his club rugby in the northern hemisphere, Townsend did enjoy a brief Super Rugby stint with the Sharks in 2004. He turned his attention to coaching in 2005, and eventually became Scotland head coach in 2017.
NOW: France coach
THEN: France scrumhalf
Galthie will go down in history as one of the great France scrumhalves. Apart from featuring at four World Cups – with the 1999 semi-final victory against the All Blacks standing out as a clear highlight – Galthie was recognised as the IRB Player of the Year in 2002.
After earning the last of his 64 Test caps at the 2003 World Cup, Galthie turned to coaching. More recently, he has transformed France into a more consistent side. Indeed, Les Bleus may have gone on to win the 2020 Six Nations title if the tournament had not been paused due to the coronavirus pandemic.
NOW: Tonga coach
THEN: Wallabies No 8
Kefu featured for the great Wallabies side that dominated southern-hemisphere and indeed world rugby at the turn of the century.
The powerful No 8 played a key role for the Australians when they won the 1999 World Cup and then back-to-back Tri-Nations titles in 2000 and 2001. The Wallabies beat the British & Irish Lions 2-1 in 2001.
Kefu played the last of his 60 Tests in 2003. He first joined Tonga as an assistant coach in 2011. He has been at the helm of the Pacific Island nation since 2016.
NOW: Japan coach
THEN: All Blacks/Japan loose forward
Joseph was a hard-nosed flank for the All Blacks in the amateur era. He represented New Zealand in 20 Tests, and was part of the side that went down 15-12 to South Africa in the 1995 World Cup final.
Joseph went on to play club rugby in Japan. He made his Test debut for the Far East nation in 1999, and represented his adopted country at the World Cup that year.
Joseph decided to pursue coaching after his playing career concluded in 2001. He steered the Highlanders to a Super Rugby title in 2015 before replacing Eddie Jones as Japan head coach in 2016.
NOW: Italy coach
THEN: Springbok flyhalf
A gifted playmaker, Smith was impressive on his Test debut for the Springboks against Scotland in 1997. Ultimately, coach Nick Mallett favoured No 10s such as Henry Honiball and Jannie de Beer for much of that era and Smith finished his international career with just nine caps.
Smith played for Newport in Wales before opting to further his career in Italy, first with Bologna and then Treviso. He went on to coach the latter side for seven years.
Smith returned to South Africa in 2014 and went on to work with the Cheetahs and Boks. Last year, he was appointed as the interim Italy coach.
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