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IT is a testament to the character of Andy Friend that, after 23 years of coaching, he continues to have a passion for rugby.
Friend says he was blindsided by the Australian Rugby Union’s decision not to renew his contract as coach of the Australian Men’s Sevens team earlier this year.
He felt as though he had shored up his position after guiding the side to victory in the Sydney 7s, but it wasn’t to be.
It was a similar feeling in March, 2011, when he was into his third season coaching the Brumbies when player power resulted in management moving him on.
He holds no bitterness towards rugby or the Brumbies. In fact, he says he still loves the game especially 7s.
“I don’t get bitter about it. I don’t know why my brain works this way,” he says.
“The opportunity stops or shuts itself off and I can move on pretty quickly and I just get on to the next thing that’s coming.”
Andy says at times he has contemplated moving away from rugby, but such is his love for the sport it keeps drawing him back in.
“When I left the Brumbies I got some great advice from a good friend of mine,” he says.
“I was telling him I was going to do all sorts of different things. He heard me out for half an hour and then he said to me: ‘Mate, you’re a jockey. That horse kicked you off, get on another horse and be a jockey again’.”
When it comes to individuals at the Brumbies during his time there he is not as forgiving. Andy is big on trust and finds it hard to comprehend when its not reciprocated.
“There are individuals that were responsible for that decision,” he says.
“Those wounds will probably never heal but I didn’t take it out on the Brumbies as a brand.”
Often the greatest impact when you are sacked as a coach is not so much on the coach but their immediate family.
From 2010 until the Brumbies’ decision in 2011 Andy had also to support his family as his wife Kerri had suffered a severe head injury in a cycling crash. If anything, it made him more resilient. He was viewing his world from a much broader perspective.
Just what the future holds remains to be seen for while he probably will end up overseas, he has strong views on what is missing in Australian rugby at the moment and he doesn’t hold back.
He loves club rugby, but is not a fan of the current Super Rugby believing the conference system is confusing and says the money in the sport is going to the top when more should be going to grassroots and developing the skill level of players.
Friend says: “We are trying to build the pyramid from the top down and it doesn’t work. It is not about the people at the top who play Super Rugby and coach Super Rugby, it’s about the grassroots and building the pyramid from the base.”
In other words, a need exists for far greater quality support for the development of junior players and coaches in their formative years if rugby in this country is going to be successful again.
As Friend says: “Money is going to the top and the way we are managing the game here is creating the situation we currently find ourselves in.”
I reckon his views are spot on. Perhaps now, more than ever, we need Andy Friend heavily involved in Australian rugby.