Dan Perrin isn’t kidding himself. He knows he’s got mega shoes to fill in his first season as Crusaders forwards coach.
Replacing Jason Ryan won’t be easy. Not after the hard-nosed assistant groomed the Christchurch-based franchise’s pack into a menacing and unrelenting unit – the backbone of the team which won six titles in as many years with Ryan on the tools.
“I’m not Jase Ryan. I’m Dan Perrin. Although there are a few similarities there, and I’ve learned a bit from him, I’ve got to be myself, and I think that’s really important. I am my own person, I do a few things a little bit differently,” the man who played eight games for the red and blacks across the 2009-10 seasons said.
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“But, for the most part, being really mindful of what’s been going on here is what works. We’ve got a playing group that’s been here for a wee while now, and they’re into a really good rhythm and know what works for them.”
Co-coach of the Tasman Mako last yearPerrin inherits a pack littered with eight capped All Blacks, including four front rowers – Joe Moody, George Bower, Codie Taylor and Fletcher Newell – and veteran lock Sam Whitelock.
Ryan, a straight-shooter who ensured the Crusaders got the best out of their All Black forwards, always stressed the All Blacks wanted and needed to be coached, no matter how experienced they were.
Perrin couldn’t agree more.
“I’m not here to facilitate anything. I’m here to keep growing and keep getting better every day. It’s one of the ethos of the Crusaders – to get better every day. We turn up to work to learn from each other. I will keep challenging those guys, and they will challenge me, as well.
“So, it’s coming in, it’s adding little bits of my personality and character, but also respecting the awesome work that Jase and the players have done. I think the fresh energy is one thing I’ve been bringing to the group, hopefully they see that, and we keep seeing results.”
Perrin’s rise to the Crusaders is proof that the franchise’s coaching pathway is a viable route.
The 40-year-old has worked with the Crusaders’ junior, under-20s and development sides in recent years, and has been on the grass at Rugby Park during pre-season the past few years.
Born in New Brighton and schooled at Aranui High School, Perrin had made it clear to Crusaders general manager for professional rugby Angus Gardiner that he wanted to eventually coach at Super Rugby level.
So, when the Crusaders lost Ryan, Perrin wasn’t caught off guard when Gardiner called to advise the job was his.
“It’s probably been a five or six-year plan to get here. I was here with Jase [during pre-season]. I was a different voice. I was getting the rhythm of Super Rugby, getting to know the players, the other coaches,” Perrin said.
“Jase was really open to sharing, really open to talking about ideas. We both love set piece, scrum, lineout. We’d find ourselves at the table for an hour or so after everyone else had left still talking about it.”
One of two new assistants in 2023 – James Marshall replaced Andrew Goodman (Leinster) and is the other – Perrin said Robertson and assistants Scott Hansen and Tamati Ellison ensured they’d quickly slotted in and formed a cohesive coaching unit.
With a fortnight of work under their belts since the Christmas break, Perrin raved about the looming competition across the forward pack, but particularly at hooker, a position they can call on Taylor, Brodie McAlister and George Bell. Ioane Moananu (Counties) has also impressed during pre-season.
The Crusaders have lost tighthead prop Oli Jager (neck) for the season, resulting in Canterbury prop Seb Calder, who debuted against the Force in Perth last year, replacing him.
Loaded at loosehead prop with Moody and Bower, Perrin confirmed Tamaiti Williams, who has started in the No 3 jersey at NPC level, was preparing to play on the other side of the scrum this year.
“I think he’s got the frame for tighthead. He’s been training there a little bit. He’s really excited to have a crack at tighthead this year, and a real point of difference is his size. For a big man, he can get into a real strong scrummaging position.”
Speaking of big men, Perrin also praised a couple of young local locks – Tahlor Cahill and Jamie Hannah – who are on national development contracts and will spend the majority of the year with the Crusaders.
“They are two exceptional young athletes, big bodies, great skill sets. The future is looking pretty bright with those two running around at the moment.”