The Pro14 has become a final transit point for club and provincial coaches set for a bigger stage.
Dave Rennie (Australia), Wayne Pivac (Wales) and Franco Smith (Italy) are among the international head coaching debutants we will see in 2020. All three of them head into the Test arena directly from the Pro14, just as Rassie Erasmus, Joe Schmidt, Gregor Townsend and others did before them.
Rennie is, of course, the headline act. When Michael Cheika, who himself coached Leinster in the Pro14 when it was still the Pro12, resigned in the aftermath of the Wallabies defeat to England in their World Cup quarter-final, there was intense focus on who would replace him in one of the top jobs in world rugby.
Australia didn’t waste too much time in naming Cheika’s replacement. While the New Zealand succession plan that has been so admired by other nations has become mired in a process that some consider a bit drawn out, Rennie is now ensconced as the Wallabies’ second Kiwi coach. Former successful Crusaders coach and All Black assistant Robbie Deans was the first.
While Rennie spent several years coaching the Chiefs in Super Rugby, like Erasmus before him he would have considered his stint as head coach of the Glasgow Warriors as a form of finishing school for the Wallabies job.
The Pro14, as World Cup-winning Springbok coach Erasmus said during the tournament, offers a diversity of opponent and conditions that you don’t get in any other provincial, regional or club competition.
A two-time Super Rugby winner with the Chiefs, Rennie moved to Scotland at the start of the 2017-18 season. He never quite matched the success of his predecessor, Gregor Townsend, himself now an international coach with Scotland, by winning the Pro14, but then it is hard to keep Leinster away from silverware in their current form.
Glasgow did make the 2018-19 final under Rennie after displaying imperious form for most of the league phase of the season, and a record crowd for Pro14 saw Leinster pip them in the final at Celtic Park.
Former Springbok centre and assistant coach Smith was announced six days ago as the Italy interim coach. While he made the decision to leave the Cheetahs in mid-year he made it clear it was to take up the lead role with the Six Nations team on a more permanent basis.
Smith has a long history in the Pro14, first with Italian team Treviso between 2007 and 2013, and latterly as the director of rugby and head coach of the Cheetahs team he was playing for when he was first selected for the Boks under the coaching of Nick Mallett in 1997.
With Jacques Nienaber, who coached with Erasmus at Munster, likely to take over the head coach role with the Boks, but director of rugby Erasmus still set to stay on as the chief honcho who calls the shots, several of next year’s international battles will be fought by coaches who got to know each other well when pitting their wits against each other in the Pro14.