'He sees through fluff': Friend lauds Coleman's Waratahs appointment

Former Brumbies and Australia Sevens boss Andy Friend has little doubt Darren Coleman is the right man to turn NSW around, identifying the new Waratahs coach's ability to "see through the fluff" and spot genuine talent as his greatest assets.

Coleman was last week unveiled as Rob Penney's replacement on a three-year deal, the two-time Shute Shield winning coach set to begin his reign in August although discussions around assistant and backroom staff are already underway.

Speaking from Los Angeles, where he is deep into the Major League Rugby season with LA Giltinis, Coleman last week declared the Waratahs gig his dream job and made special mention of his late father and how proud he would have been of his son's ascension to the top job in NSW rugby.

But Coleman also referenced Friend's influence on his career, the two men going way back to the fledlging years of Super 12.

"Another big mentor of mine was Andy Friend, I followed him through a few different organisations," Coleman said. "My first gig at Waratahs, Andy was the skills coach, so I followed him through the pathway and he brought me back to the Brumbies when I was overseas.

"Obviously I saw what happened to Andy in the end, he had a bit of a player revolt, there was an ugly aspect. But one thing I took from Friendy right through was that he never lost his moral compass, he's just a really good man. And at times that might have upset people, because he told it like it was.

"I've got no doubt that he had shortcomings as a coach and that's why it didn't work out well in that particular environment. But he's gone on now to Connacht and kicked goals over there."

Friend has indeed gone on to kick goals with Irish province Connacht, a placement he has recently extended for a further two years. He also had success with Australia's men's sevens team, before he was controversially replaced by women's coach Tim Walsh after the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Back in Australia for a six-week visit - two of which have just been wrapped up in hotel quarantine - Friend was touched to hear of Coleman's comments when contacted by ESPN.

And he is adamant the Waratahs have a good one, the man known as "Friendy" declaring his former assistant coach an "incredible talent".

"I've known DC for many years, we were young coaches back at the Waratahs in 1997/1998, so we go back that far which is just over 22 years," Friend told ESPN. "So we've known each other for a helluva long time and as you say I brought him into the Brumbies because I liked him as a bloke and I liked him as a coach.

"I think he's an incredible talent. The thing that always impressed me about him is his eye for talent, he has an incredible capacity to see the good in what certain players can do and puts together a team that can be successful, as he's proven with Warringah, with Gordon and now with the Giltinis. So I'm absolutely delighted for him."

A theme that keeps popping up with Coleman is his ability to identify talent other coaches may overlook. He backed himself to uncover some "rough diamonds" before next year's Super Rugby season, while Friend suggested it was Coleman's eye for the little things that set him apart from other coaches.

"I just think he sees through some of the fluff, I'll call it fluff because there is a lot of fluff around certain people, but he sees through some of that stuff," Friend told ESPN. "When you've been in the game for so long it's hard to put your finger on what you see.

"I've had some people say to me 'why have you picked him?' And I'll say 'I just like the way he gets up out of a ruck' or 'I just like the way he moves after he's been tackled' or 'he moves off the ball when he's three passes off it', but it's hard to pinpoint what it is you see.

"DC, I don't know how he'd describe it, but I'd say it would be something similar to that. I think he sees a footballer for what he is and also the capacity to then look into the crystal ball and see what he could be. So I think that is a great talent of his and I'm sure it's something that the Waratahs are going to benefit from."

One of the biggest endorsements of Coleman's appointment has come from the Shute Shield community.

A two-time winner of the competition with Warringah and Gordon, after stints at Penrith, Northern Suburbs and Eastern Suburbs, Coleman's ascension to the Waratahs is being seen as a turning point for other coaches hoping to make their passion a profession.

Having jumped around the professional environments in Australia before heading off overseas, Friend agreed it was a massive step in the right direction, saying he had long had issues with the lack of clear coaching pathways in Australian rugby.

"I think it's a really clever appointment, he knows grassroots rugby; I think it is really important for coaches to see that there is a pathway, that you can coach Shute Shield rugby and you can come through and coach at the top; it hasn't happened for a lot of years here," Friend said. "And that's one of my greatest criticisms of rugby in this country, there hasn't been a clear pathway for coaches.

"But now with DC getting that appointment, there would appear that there is a pathway and that you can actually work your way up from the grassroots, which I think is one of the greatest nurseries where you learn your trade coming through from club rugby.

"So I'm absolutely stoked for him and I think he's going to do a great job."