Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

David Humphrey's big gamble with move to Gloucester

Gloucester switch will either prove a stroke of genius or end in ridicule

By Neil Francis

"The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who usually do" – Steve Jobs.

Jobs was a game-changer – not a particularly likeable one – but I can leave my principles aside when it comes to genius.

David Humphreys – does he think he can change the world? Not certain if he is crazy enough.

The move to Gloucester caught everyone cold – including, I would suggest, Humphreys. It had all the impulsive fervour of a woman who blurts out a positive response to the first proposal of marriage that she receives.

Nobody thought about asking Humphreys – except Gloucester. The feeling was that he would be the Guy Noves or Alex Ferguson of Ulster rugby. A polite refusal and a declared inference that "actually we are busy building a dynasty here."

Why did he go? The first reason was that someone thought to ask him. A salary north of £400,000 might also have had something to do with it.

Sometimes cautious, conservative and risk-averse people who have their future mapped out make a life-altering decision on a whim. Humphreys joining Gloucester to me was like putting the life savings on 10 red.

I can see Conor O'Shea staying at Harlequins for 10 years or Mark McCall doing the same at Saracens. I am certain that Humphreys won't be at Gloucester in 2024.

This is a transitional period and if he can appease his jumpy employers – get the cherry and whites into the Aviva play-offs and from there into the Heineken Cup – then he has a chance of progressing. It makes sense to look at what Humphreys left.

Humphreys had made Ulster marvellously competitive. In any sphere in life it is the intangible, the unquantifiable that you don't take into account.

Belief and self-belief are also an inestimable commodity – if the team believes, you are 90% of the way. Ulster have been believing for the last three seasons. 2012 was their year. They were unfortunate to run into Leinster. They certainly were good enough to get to the final last year – but not good enough to win it.

This season you get a sense of treading water. When Humphreys left, the first casualty was always going to be Mark Anscombe. The Aucklander, seen as Humphreys man, was binned rather than go a season with a lame duck coach.

Player power reasserted itself at Ravenhill. There was not a peep out of the players when Humphreys was in control.

One of the things that caught everyone by surprise was the speed of it all. I suppose if you are going to move, don't get involved in a long goodbye.

Either way, pre-season training would have been starting a week or two after Humphreys signed up.

One of the things that can be said about Humphreys is that he has a bigger picture in his head. His thinking goes far beyond the confines of Ravenhill. Maybe with Joe Schmidt in command and likely to be for a very long time, and David Nucifora newly installed as the IRFU performance director, Humphreys' national aspirations were put on hold.

He now has to wait and, more importantly, while waiting ensure that his stock doesn't fall, he has gone to the one club in England where it could either fall off the planet or ascend into the stratosphere. Is he crazy?

Gloucester are the classic flat-track bullies – comfortable and confident in their home patch, patsies away from it. Founded in 1875, they have won the Premiership just once in 2002 and the ERC Challenge Cup in 2006.

They have no pedigree and Humphreys must have known this before he signed. The prospect maybe of turning them around was too much to resist and he went for it. Humphreys' biggest problem is who Gloucester have put in as head coach.

Laurie Fisher, despite his chaotic aesthetic, is a well-regarded coach. Fisher to be better as an assistant coach or forwards coach. He is the head coach of Gloucester and I think it is a bad fit and they do not have the right man to energise the club.

Gloucester have a sparkling array of outside backs but their expensively-assembled marquee players have so much riding on them that they cannot live up to expectation.

By mid season, Humphreys might be wishing for the frigid horizontal rain of Ravenhill on a Friday night in January.

Humphreys is sane and when he realises what he has done all the rugby intellect, rugby nous and canny experience might not be enough to get him through.

Like Jobs said, you need to be a little bit crazy for this one.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph