Clayton McMillan has been in constant contact with Warren Gatland during the team’s surge of success and is excited about the prospect of working under him.
Clayton McMillan has been in constant contact with Warren Gatland during his time as interim Chiefs coach and says despite the teams sudden surge of success, the franchise will be all the better for Gatlands return,
Thanks to the Chiefs dramatically turning their fortunes around with four Super Rugby Aotearoa wins on the trot, the big elephant in the room, which always had the potential to rear its head, has rather now stormed through the front door.
In January, even before a ball was kicked in his maiden Super Rugby gig, McMillan re-signed with the franchise as an assistant for 2022 and 2023. That always made for a possible awkward look if the team went well but then he got demoted when Gatland, following his miserable winless 2020 SRA campaign, came back for his final two years in charge.
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Clayton McMillan says he is looking forward to working under Warren Gatland next year.
But, ahead of his sides crunch clash against the Hurricanes in Hamilton on Friday night, McMillan revealed Gatland hadnt exactly dumped and ran, and felt compelled to issue an unwavering commitment to the job he is listed for for the two years ahead.
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We touch base after most games, McMillan said of his contact with Gatland. Hes obviously busy up in the UK, but hes taken a really active interest in whats going on here.
I want to take this opportunity… I know a lots been written in the media about the team going well and Gats being away, [but] our team is only going to be better for that man being involved with this environment.
I always knew coming into this that it was going to be an interim role if Gats is coming back. And one of the real attractions for me was to work alongside a man of that level of experience. And absolutely nothing has changed.
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One of McMillans big attributes has been his ability to band together a squad low on confidence and instil belief. Captain Brad Weber said he gets the balance right in the vibe he sets.
He can be pretty intimidating as well an ex-cop and hes a big boy, so I wouldnt want to get on the wrong side of him, but at the same time he knows when to put an arm around a guy, I guess, and have that balance, which I think is key, because it can be a long slog, Super Rugby.
There are other differences between the pair which makes Chiefs chief executive Michael Collins look forward to them working together.
I actually think their strengths complement each other really really well, he told Stuff.
Warren Gatland is a world-class coach… his rugby IP is pretty incredible.
And some of the changes he brought in here around the way we prepared, the way we train, last year were good. Obviously we didnt get the results and people will judge us on that, and thats what people do, so well take that on the chin.
But then you look at Clayton, hes scrapped his way up. Hes got a really deep understanding of the talent pool around the players, support staff, in this region. And being raised in Rotorua, hes got a real affinity for tikanga Mori, speaks fluent te reo, and, culturally, he is a real good fit for the Chiefs.
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Chiefs chief executive Michael Collins says there is an incredibly harmonious working relationship there already between Warren Gatland and Clayton McMillan.
Collins said he is getting stopped in the street by every third or fourth person wanting to tell him their views on the coaching situation. But for him, there is no reason to feel that what they have in place wont work well.
Ive sat down with both Clayton and Gatty individually, sat down with them together, he said. Theyre both incredibly eager to work with each other. I know sometimes in sport you talk about egos and stuff like that, but both of those gentlemen, neither have a massive ego.
The three of us have done a lot of work together on the support staff, on the team, and theres an incredibly harmonious working relationship there already.
After being appointed to the interim role in February last year, McMillan was fully involved with the team and had found it incredibly helpful sitting in on all the end-of-season reviews. And, in reverse, Collins said Gatland was incredibly respectful working in the background of McMillans ship on return from a Christmas break before heading overseas.
Asked if the idea of co-coaches was a possibility the franchise do like co-captains, after all Collins said:
Well cross that bridge. At the moment theres no plans to do that. So well wait till Gatty gets back in New Zealand and me, him and Clayton can sit down and see whos doing what.
That will also extend to the assistant coaches. While Collins confirmed backs coach Roger Randle is contracted for next season, he wouldnt disclose the status of scrum coach Nick White, kicking coach David Hill and forwards coach Neil Barnes, though it’s understood the latter is unlikely to return, having taken on the Taranaki NPC job.