24 Feb O’Halloran | Backing it up
Scotland’s backs coach, Jason O’Halloran, New Zealander and one time All Black, reflects on his time in Edinburgh, links to the British & Irish Lions and his future at Glasgow Warriors.
In November 2015, Jason O’Halloran flew into Edinburgh with his wife Shelley and children Ethan, 14, Brooke, 12, and Blake, 9, by his side, leaving his position as Head Coach of New Zealand side Manuwatu Turbos behind him.
He joined Vern Cotter’s coaching team as backs coach, replacing Duncan Hodge who left the national team to join club side Edinburgh Rugby after the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Since then, O’Halloran has been part of a coaching team that has helped break some Scottish Six Nations hoodoos, most recently ending Scotland’s opening day drought with a 27-22 victory over Ireland earlier this month.
The Scottish backs scored three tries in a blistering opening 40 minutes of rugby that O’Halloran expects tomorrow’s opponents, Wales, to be wary of the Scot’s attacking threat.
“We are now seen to have an attack that is quite dangerous, so when you think about how to stop us you generally have to focus on set piece or the breakdown aggressively to disrupt our flow, which is what France did and what Ireland did in the second half,” O’Halloran said.
“We need to get those two parts of our game right so we can play our game and have an effective attack.
“We need to be clever and think our way through the game, particularly in the absence of our long-standing captain Greig Laidlaw.
“It’s going to be a challenge but we have a broad structure of leadership in place across the team that means the burden of responsibility is never fully on the captain. The same goes for tomorrow’s captain.”
The Scot’s have three remaining games in this year’s tournament: Wales, followed by a tricky trip to Twickenham to play England before returning to BT Murrayfield on Saturday 18 March for the Championship finale against Italy.
The match will be O’Halloran’s last game on the sidelines for Scotland before he and fellow Scotland assistant Jonathan Humphreys join the Glasgow Warriors coaching staff this summer, as part of the coaching changes that come into effect when Cotter departs for Montpellier.
As a player, O’Halloran was well known for his prolific play making abilities, scoring 35 tries in 95 games for Wellington and 17 in 54 for Hurricanes at Super Rugby level.
The progression from playing to coaching was a natural one for the Kiwi. He hung up his boots in 2004 and started his coaching career with Japanese club Kubota Spears, where he finished his playing days.
“During my third year of playing [for Kubota] I 18 19 started to see things that I thought I could help with in terms of a team’s structure and game play.
“I had a chat with some of the players and they thought my ideas were good and suggested I talked to the club about moving into a coaching role, which I did.
“I did that for a couple of years then went back to New Zealand and just continued on from there to be honest.”
When pushed on whether he prefers coaching or playing, he said: “You are a lot busier as a coach than as a player.
“You don’t realise how much time you have to yourself as a player. Coaching is way more intense in terms of preparation. I only ever miss the game on game days. I don’t miss training.
“But when I walk around on the pitch, setting up cones before kick-off in front of 67,000 people, you miss it for sure.
“The atmosphere at BT Murrayfield is second to none. When the boys score tries or make a big tackle and the crowd gets up, it’s awesome. It’s amazing to hear the anthem, I think it’s fabulous.”
And it’s not just the national anthem that he loves about Scotland, speaking fondly of his new surroundings and life in the Scottish capital.
“Edinburgh is an awesome city, even on a bad day it’s a good place to be. It’s vibrant and the festival is fantastic. It’s a great place to show people around when the family come to visit. There is great schooling here as well.
“We live in a brilliant area with a lot of young families around us and only a 200-metre walk from the school. The boys both love football so being over this side of the world has been great.
“They both support Hibs and they love it. They actually went to this week’s Edinburgh derby.”
Scotston wasn’t the only place O’Halloran could’ve ended up either, with the 44-year-old’s talents attracting interest from British & Irish Lions and Wales coach Warren Gatland.
“I had a chat with Warren but the circumstances weren’t ideal. The bottom line was that Dave Rennie [current Head Coach of the Chiefs and inbound Warriors Head Coach] wouldn’t be here for Glasgow Warriors’ pre-season if the Chiefs went deep into the Super Rugby season.
“With that in mind I felt I needed to be in Glasgow to help that next group of backs coming through.”
When pressed on individual Scottish interest in terms of Lions’ selection, O’Halloran explained that a strong team performance is the best way to boost individual selection hopes.
“There are opportunities there for several guys if they perform really well but individuals will be promoted if we perform well as a team.
“Thinking back to when I was involved in New Zealand rugby, you have a trial but it’s the team that wins the trial that gets the guys get in.
“You can win as many individual match ups as you like but if you don’t win the game you could be less likely to get individuals promoted.”