Kieran Crowley: I came to coach Benetton and fell in love with the country

Kieran Crowley came to Italy for a job, it has become a way of life.

Kieran Crowley came to Italy for a job, it has become a way of life.

The 59-year-old from New Zealand’s North Island took over at Benetton in 2016 and five years later he steps up to the top job in charge of the Azzurri.

He succeeds Franco Smith, who had trod a similar path from Benetton to the national team, albeit with a spell back in South Africa in between.

But this was never the plan for Crowley. When he arrived in Italy, there were no dreams of coaching another national side.

And yet that is where we are, after his appointment announced by new FIR president Marzio Innocenti.

Crowley said: “I came to coach Benetton but I really enjoyed it, fell in love with the country and it’s ended up in this position so I’m really looking forward to the opportunity.

“Italy is a great country to be in and to be able to coach them at the highest level against some great teams throughout the world is something I’m really looking forward to and excited about.”

Crowley’s coaching pedigree both in Italy and prior to arriving in the country is impressive.

After a long stint with Taranaki, he coached New Zealand’s Under-19s to World Cup success in 2007 before taking over as the Canada coach.

That was his first senior Test role, although he had previously served as a selector with the All Blacks.

With Canada he twice reached the Churchill Cup final, while the Canadians also finished as runners-up in the Pacific Nations Cup.

He got the opportunity to face the country of his birth while in charge of Canada and that will be his first assignment as Italy coach as well.

With the summer tour to New Zealand called off due to the pandemic, the Azzurri’s next match comes this November against the All Blacks.

For Crowley, who was part of the New Zealand team that won the inaugural World Cup in 1987, it is a huge challenge but one he cannot wait to take on.

He added: “We haven’t got a game until we play the All Blacks in November so it will be about getting to know the players.

“I know a lot of the players, the ones from the Benetton area but I need to get to know the other players as well, and then we need to develop a purpose of how we are going to play and look to improve areas and move forward from there.

“I coached Canada and we played the All Blacks a couple of times, so I’ve been there. I’m an Italian now, an Italian coach so that will be my focus, the fact the first game is against the All Blacks is just the way it’s worked out.

“My focus will certainly be on the Italian team and what we can do. We’ll prepare as well as we can for that and perform as well as we can and hopefully that gives us a bit of a building block as we move forward.”

Crowley takes over from Smith, who is moving into a new role as the head of high performance in the country.

And while the South African struggled for results in his short time in charge, he has given experience to a lot of youngsters over the past 18 months.

That is something that Crowley expects to be hugely beneficial as Italy look to compete on the international scene – a challenge that he readily admits will take time.

Crowley, who led Benetton to their first-ever Guinness PRO14 play-off appearance, added: “There’s been a lot of new players introduced over the last couple of years. Franco brought a lot of players in and we’ll reap the benefits of that hopefully.

“They have now had a year’s experience and if you combine those with the experienced players, hopefully we can put out some good performances.

“We need to work on the little things with the team and the more experience we have and the more exposure we have to these games, hopefully we will get some results that are positive for Italian rugby.

“We need our performances that earn back respect and credibility so that will be the main goal over the next couple of years as we head towards the next World Cup.

“Seven of our first eight games are against top nine teams in the world so that’s a huge challenge. We can’t expect to be getting the Ws in those columns early on – we’ll certainly be trying to but it will be small steps at the start.”