Brian Ashton compared to Kitch Christie
October 15, 2013, 19:26:38
An interesting extract from an article written by Robert Kitson of The Guardian.
The two coaches, for a start, are peas from very similar pods. Ashton, at 61, is only slightly older than the late Kitch Christie when, at the age of 55, the latter masterminded South Africa's victory over New Zealand. Both men were latecomers to the role, having accepted their jobs in hospital-pass circumstances. Ashton was appointed as England's head coach last December in the wake of Andy Robinson's departure. Christie was also installed barely seven months before the tournament, inheriting an unstable squad following the sacking of Ian McIntosh.
Christie, who died of leukaemia less than three years after the tournament at the age of 58, was the son of a Scottish father and English mother, educated at Leith Academy in Edinburgh and the London Institute of Electronics. He knew his own mind and was not a natural media crowd-pleaser but had a track record of club and provincial success, coaching for a brief spell in the United States before returning to guide Transvaal to successive Currie Cup titles. Before ill health forced him to step down from the Springbok job in March 1996 he guided South Africa to a then-record 14 wins in 14 Tests.
Like Ashton, Christie was more of a father figure than most rugby coaches. He also believed successful teams are a product of collective desire and mental strength rather than individual talent. Pienaar has subsequently written that fostering self-belief, a family atmosphere within the squad and an enjoyment of playing the game were all key Christie priorities, a list Ashton would recognise. An emphasis on fitness, intense analysis and a willingness to change his mind were also parts of the Christie method with which Ashton's squad will be familiar.
Ed Griffiths, the former South African Rugby Football Union chief executive who was part of Christie's management team in 1995, is among those who sense a similarity. "Kitch was never defined by the job," stressed Griffiths yesterday. "Whether they had won or lost the World Cup he was always going to be the same Kitch Christie. He was slightly bemused by the excitement surrounding him. I've never met Brian Ashton but he strikes me as the same kind of person."
Christie was also his own man tactically. On the eve of the final he even decided to introduce a faster-paced gameplan designed to confuse the All Blacks, only to scrap the idea on the eve of the game after realising his team were a little uncertain in training. Before kick-off he stood up and declared his faith in this players. "We're going to win this World Cup by getting the basics right . . . every match I have been a part of, at every level, has been won by the team making the fewest mistakes." Christie advised Joel Stransky to keep an eye out for drop-kick opportunities, Jonah Lomu was gang-tackled into submission and the rest is history. Unsung players such as James Small, Rudi Straeuli and Reuben Kruger had conquered the world.
Fast forward to this autumn and Ashton has followed a similar blueprint. Mental toughness has been an essential prerequisite. Like Stransky, he has a drop-kick specialist at fly-half, a hard-working pack and a team which, belatedly, adds up to more than the sum of its parts. He has switched selectorial tack numerous times in this tournament, just as Christie did when he successfully moved his lock Mark Andrews to No8 for the waterlogged semi-final against France in Durban.