New coach finding feet at Highlanders

New Highlanders assistant coach Glenn Delaney at training at Logan Park this week. Photo: Linda Robertson
New Highlanders assistant coach Glenn Delaney at training at Logan Park this week. Photo: Linda Robertson
Glenn Delaney is a well-travelled man. His latest port of call is Dunedin as the new Highlanders defence coach. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn catches up with the former lock forward.

It has not taken Glenn Delaney long to realise how much the Highlanders mean to people in the South.

The former St Andrew's College pupil said everything he heard about the Highlanders was true.

The town loves the team and the players love to play for the people.

''I was out at a coffee at the salt pool in St Clair, watching the surfers and had the work computer on. This little kid came up to me. He must have been 3 or 4 with an ice cream in his hand, and yelled out 'Highlanders, Highlanders','' Delaney said.

''That was all he could say. His mother came across and asked if he was OK. He was great and it was kind of cool. But the one thing that has impressed upon me since being here is this town loves their team and the players will play for this town.

''It is quite rare you see that crossover. In other places there is the expectation to perform and if you don't you are in trouble. Here they want to see us put in an honest day's work. Yes, we want success but they are the people we represent.''

Delaney (44) has been in and around the oval ball all his life.

Brought up in Temuka and Christchurch, he left to play rugby in Japan in 1993, aged just 19.

Four years later, he moved to the United Kingdom. He played in the Premiership for London Irish but when he smashed his ankle while playing in France, he turned to coaching.

''My first club when I went to the UK was Nottingham. They always said when you finished playing would you come back.

''So when I finished up in France, I went back and coached part-time. I was working in recruitment and head hunting - commercial work. Then my best mate, who was the director of rugby, left and I took over.''

He stayed at Nottingham for eight years, before moving to London Irish, where he eventually became director of coaching.

Earlier this year, he was appointed Mitre 10 Cup coach for Canterbury. Delaney said there was no grand plan to come home.

''I don't think you ever have a plan to do it. At some point of time things line up.

''That led to where I am now. With coaching you can't look too far down the line.

''You just want to do a really good job where you are and if you do a good job where you are, whatever happens, will happen. So you just have to worry about what you are doing now.''

Then the Highlanders defence job came up - with Scott McLeod moving to the All Blacks - and that got Delaney thinking and looking.

He liked what he saw.

''There is a great balance here between working hard and knowing the time to switch off. It is quite unique. The innovations the Highlanders have always brought.

''It is a different type of rugby but there are the great foundations of hard work and good people.''

When Aaron Mauger was still playing for Leicester, he went to Nottingham and did some coaching with Delaney in his first baby steps towards coaching. Now the pair are back together, although pupil has become master.

Delaney had always coached defence although he did not view it as that.

''I'm actually an attack coach. I want to get the ball back. The whole point of defence is why should you watch them play. We want to play.

''So we have to find a way of getting the ball back as quick as you can. It has got to resonate with the players. We have had aggressive defence here. Stormy [McLeod] had done a great job ... it is not to come and do something completely different. It is subtle differences. Anything than means we do not have the ball means I have a job of going to get it.

''You can look at it like the poisoned chalice as it is always harder to deliver ... Primarily it is reactive. They've got the ball so you have to make the decisions.

He said the focus on increased line speed was not new in defence but was common in the United Kingdom.

Delaney is married to Claire, who hails from the United Kingdom, and the couple have four children: Alex (16), Hannah (14), Josh (12) and Charlotte (9).

They had started the school year in London but would relocate to New Zealand at Easter next year. His sister, Marianne Delaney-Hoshek, is the coach of the Tactix netball team.

He admitted it was tough not having the family back here but was throwing himself into work.

''Pre-season is brilliant. The best time for coaching.

''In the season, you've got games every week so you get yourself into strategy, about how to win, rather than concentrating on players and helping them get better.''


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