The life of Brian

Brian Smith has done wonders for London Irish during his time at the club, but it seems he is far less in love with the job of coaching than the Exiles faithful would like

By Peter Bills

His coaching pedigree is assured. He steered one team to a Super 12 final in the southern hemisphere and has had success in European competitions and the Guinness Premiership with Bath and now London Irish.

Only recently, Irish came within touching distance of beating Toulouse for a place in the Heineken Cup final. A narrow 15-21 loss was a courageous performance, if a frustrating near miss.

Heady heights then for a club who were always everyone’s favourite social rugby outfit.

Brian Smith has been the key figure in dragging London Irish, albeit kicking and screaming at times, into the serious world of professional rugby.

Yet the Australian contemplates his achievements and his own future with the intriguing line “I am not sure I will be a career coach.”

Smith is just over 40 and at the crossroads. A former international rugby player with Australia and Ireland, he confesses his enduring love affair with this game.

And yet what makes Smith different from the usual coach is that he is prepared to think out of the box. He’s smart, highly presentable, shrewd and realistic. And he needs to be in his business, one of the most perilous around.

Even though Smith has taken Irish from third from bottom (in 2005) to third from top (in 2006) of the Guinness Premiership and also into the last four of the premier European competition, he well understands the pitfalls.

Have a great season, be the toast of your club – but then struggle at the start of the following season. Suddenly, there is talk of ‘finding a new coach’. Smith is no fool; he’s more than aware of the dangers.

“It’s quite a fickle business. So if people ask me if you have to be mad to do it, I’d say yes. You really hit the depths of despair when you lose and then you taste the ultimate highs when you win.

“For the time being, we (his wife Lisa and 2 year-old daughter Ruby) are really happy living in London. And I think the club is happy with what I’m trying to do here. But one day we would like to go home.”

In one sense, Brian Smith is a young man. He is fit, highly active, eager and enthusiastic, as his work shows. But in another way, as he says, he doesn’t have a lot of time to decide his future path.

“Coaching is quite a speculative game. By the time you are 45, you have to work out whether this is going to be a lifetime quest or go back to the real world.

“I have been coaching professionally for seven or eight seasons and when I started, I said I’d do it for 10 seasons and then assess it.”

The real world? He means things such as spending time with his family, having weekends off, taking a European city break for a few days: things ordinary people do and enjoy.

But would he really walk away from rugby? Isn’t he one of the best, one of the brightest and smartest coaches around these days? Besides, wouldn’t he miss the buzz, the craic?

“Rugby gives you a buzz, alright,” he says. “I think it would be hard to quit. That is why I found it very difficult to give away as a player. It would be very, very difficult to walk away from. But at some point, every party has to end.”

His brother runs a successful business in Sydney in the world of TV production and advertising. Brian Smith would certainly enhance the company.

But no rugby? He has another confession to make.

“What complicates it is that at some point I would like to be involved in a Rugby World Cup campaign.”

Shrewdly, he does not speculate as to with which country.