Where Are They Now | Glen Jackson & Simon Raiwalui
It was nice to see Eroni Mawi getting a call up into the Fijian squad for the autumn internationals this week and he will be carrying on a rich tradition of Saracens who have played for the south sea islands team. In fact, he probably owes his call-up to one former Saracen, Simon Raiwalui.
The grass tends not to grow for too long under the giant feet of the former international second row, who these days is the general manager of the high performance unit at Fiji Rugby. And it is a similar situation with the new Fijian skills and kicking coach, Glen Jackson.
All Saracens fans will remember Glen, he of the golden boot. The Kiwi outside half signed for the club in 2004 and in 2007 he was voted The Professional Rugby Players’ Association player of the year after being leading points scorer in the 2006–07 Guinness Premiership.
In New Zealand he played for the Chiefs in Super Rugby and also for the Maori All Blacks. In 2009, he played for the Barbarians in their 33-26 win over an England XV team captained by his Sarries team mate Steve Borthwick.
Glen played his final game for Saracens against Leicester Tigers in the 2010 Guinness Premiership final at Twickenham, in what was an agonising 33-27 defeat. He ended up with 1,192 Premiership points in 112 games and notched a further 193 in the Heineken Cup.
A few days after his final game for the club he was on a plane back to New Zealand to launch the next phase of his rugby career, as a referee. After a decade of blowing the whistle at the highest level he opted for a further change, this time stepping into coaching after sucking up the disappointment of not being selected to officiate at the 2019 World Cup.
“I always felt the coaching thing could easily be done when I finished refereeing. I just felt that while I was still able to run and I was relatively middle-aged, it was a good time to still be involved in something where I could still run around,” said the man who went on to become a five-time New Zealand Referee of the Year and was the first Kiwi to both play and referee 100 first class fixtures.
He completed the RFU referee’s exams while still playing and officiated youth matches while he was a Saracens player. That paved the way for him to step into a professional contract as a referee in his native New Zealand.
“I got different nerves from playing when I was a referee. When you’re playing, it’s that you don’t want to be killed by some huge player. As a referee, it’s that you don’t want to be killed by spectators for mucking up,” he quipped.
“There are so many more things that can go wrong as a referee. The one thing I found as a referee is that you can’t really fix it by doing something brilliant. No one ever said ‘Geez, that was brilliant from the referee.’
“If you make a mistake as a rugby player you can sometimes patch it up with a bit of skill or doing something good to cover the mistake. As a referee if you do something right, that’s your job, and if you do something wrong, then you’re an idiot.”
Both Glen and Simon are used to going round the world and back again on their various rugby adventures and were looking forward to heading ‘North’ once more later this month when the Fijians land to play Tests against Spain, Wales and Georgia. Unfortunately, COVID restrictions mean the coaching team are remaining in Fiji and New Zealand to avoid any concerns over transmission of the disease.
Born in Australia, he went on to win 39 caps for Fiji and captained his country. His playing career took him to Sale Sharks, Newport, Saracens and Racing 92 in France. He captained Newport and Saracens.
When he retired he became a quality coach at Racing 92 in 2012 before switching to the other side of the French capital and helping Stade Francais to win the Top 14 title in 2015. He was forwards coach to the Wallabies at the 2019 World Cup.
Now his task is to help Fijian rugby take the next step and fulfil their true potential on the international stage. His appointment earlier this year came a few days after Vern Cotter was installed as head coach, give Fiji a real heavyweight coaching presence at the top end of their organisation.
His other challenge is to establish the newly formed Fijian Drua side in Super Rugby from next February.
“Playing against Tier 1 nations consistently, as well as getting exposure to Super Rugby, is going to be a huge thing for our development. We have the talent, we have the players, but we need them to be put in positions where they understand situations on and off the field consistently. That’s part of my job,” he said.
“We’ve got an enormous amount of talent in the country – some of the best in the world – so creating and improving those pathways is important for having the best product on the field.”