As a partner of the RFU, QBE is working with England Rugby to help develop coaching of the game at grassroots level. The QBE Coaching Club aims to train 2,015 coaches up to Level 2 of the coaching qualifications by the time the 2015 Rugby World Cup rolls around in September next year.
TTT caught up with England Rugby coaches Mike Catt and Graham Rowntree to get their more general views on the world of coaching and get some advice for coaches starting out in their careers.
TTT: Is there a coach that has particularly influenced you over the years?
Graham Rowntree: I think about Bob Dwyer who took my old club into English professionalism and changed everything. Then there was Dean Richards. Also Sir Ian McGeechan – a very softly spoken man but you’d die for him. Within the England set-up there have been some great coaches, like Andy Robinson. But as coaches you also learn a lot from the players, particularly at this end of the game. And of course Stuart [Lancaster], Mike [Catt] and Faz [Andy Farrell]. I’m still a kid as a coach – I think we all are still learning. We’re constantly learning and evolving together.
TTT: How has coaching developed over the last ten years?
Mike Catt: What I’ve found is that a lot of the coaching actually comes down to man management. Ten, twelve years ago you still had coaches screaming and shouting at you when our generation was playing, and you’d get a reaction from that. Now you have to man manage people completely differently; there are different ways of getting the best out of players. Obviously they do need it every now and again. For me it’s managing how you get the best out of individual players. Some of them you have to put your arm around, some of them you can bollock, some of them you send over to Graham, whatever it is, there are different ways to get the best out of them.
GR: Appropriate is the word. I’ve worked with plenty of coaches who all they know is ‘the hairdrier treatment’. But after a while it’s like a dog barking and you stop listening to it. You have to have that in your locker; be able to pull out a nuclear bomb when available.
TTT: Where do you draw the line between putting your arm around a players and that ‘nuclear bomb’?
GR: Ultimately the group has to enjoy the environment but sometimes they can get a bit too comfortable and occasionally you need a bit of a cattle prod but that’s a good dilemma to have rather than having to pick people up all the time because they’re in the doldrums. Importantly they’re a young group and we all as a group like a bit of a crack, whether it be on the field or in meetings or presentations and that’s important because you feed off how you get on as a coaching team.
TTT: How do you deal with different characters within the team?
GR: They all need to be treated differently but feel like they’re being treated the same. So no-one gets a green card in a video review session for example. Everyone has to put their hand up if they’ve cocked up. No-one gets a green card where they can just sit there quietly.
TTT: You’re obviously working with players at the top of the game so do you still focus on their individual skills, which should really be up to scratch already?
GR: I’m a mindset coach. It’s all about getting the mindset right and within that there is technique. There are technical things that the players need to be good at but it’s very much a case of ‘What’s our mindset today?’, ‘What do we think about this game?’, ‘How do you recover from mistakes?’, ‘How do you recover from losses?’. Some guys you need to pull in. Some guys you need to pull up, all to get the mindset right collectively.
TTT: What would you say is the balance between being so-called pioneers of the game and learning from others in the game?
MT: You want to be innovative rather than followers. For example, everybody is trying to emulate what New Zealand have done, especially in attack, but I’d like to think that some of the stuff we’re doing is now different to what the rest of the world is doing. But it’s taken a bit of time for us to develop and it’s going to take time to perfect it. There no point telling people what we’re doing because it’s all there for people to see anyway, with the amount of analysis that goes on. But it’s working for us at the moment and we’ll continue to do it.
TTT: What developments have been made in the game?
MC: If you think about it no-one has reinvented the wheel when it comes to rugby. Everybody plays off nine, everybody plays off ten, off twelve, everybody drives and everybody scrummages. Everybody is doing exactly the same things but the difference is in the accuracy and your players creating the opportunity to score tries. That’s where New Zealand are so far ahead in that their tight five are as good as their centres with ball in hand. So they’ve got an all-court game. Their forwards are doing what their centres are doing and vice versa. That’s what we’ll strive for, to get these guys to be able to do all parts of the game rather than just push, jump, set-piece or whatever.
TTT: How does one team become the best as such an elite level?
GR: It’s about being able to do these things under tremendous duress and pressure. I keep saying the best team does the simple things very, very well. It’s about being able to perform when you’re knackered. When you’ve been scrummaging for five minutes, it’s about getting up and doing the right thing; not being sloppy. That can be accuracy at the breakdown – not going off your feet – rather than making a miracle pass. It’s those game-changing moments and doing things with accuracy that will win us things, without trying to be the most innovative team going. Having said that, New Zealand won the last World Cup with a very clever line-out move so you have to have that up your sleeve too.
TTT: Where do you guys stand on the amount of structure a team should have versus being able to read the game and react?
MC: Everybody has ‘maps’ of where you need to be and some teams have four or five phases mapped out, whereas some have one. Some teams spend all their time on those maps whereas in actual fact sometimes there will only be six lineouts in a game – so you can’t actually use them all. So it’s about getting that balance right.
Some coaches particularly some Australian ones have very much gone down the route of structure, structure, structure in the model of the ACT Brumbies and Eddie Jones. But for us we want the players to be able to see the pitch and what’s in front of them.
TTT: So the focus is on being able to react at key moments?
MC: Yes, decision-making is key for us. You can plan for 50 million things but the pitch you see on a Saturday is completely different to what you’ve planned. What you’ve got to do is see that picture first, and react. That’s what we’re trying to coach the guys. See the picture, make the decision and we go from there, rather than if there’s a big hole you’re not actually allowed to run into it because you’ve planned to go elsewhere. The likes of Saracens, Northampton are also playing that brand of rugby so it’s helping us massively too. They’ve changed the way they’re playing rugby so it helps us when those guys come to us.
TTT: How do you go about coaching decision making?
MC: It’s about looking at the right parts of the picture, not just staring at the ball all the time because the pitch is going to be changing. If you see a hole and look away for three seconds that hole might have closed. So you’re looking, looking, looking and seeing what’s in front of you. It’s very simple but you want the whole team to be able to do it, not just the nines and tens; the front five as well.
GR: I think the answer is doing all the coaching together. Looking at line-outs, scrums, breakdown in isolation is what’s been done historically but if you move from one element to another as a group and do it together under duress, that promotes decision making.
TTT: In light of Jared Payne’s red card for taking out Alex Goode in the air [in the recent Ulster v Saracens Heineken Cup quarter-final], are the laws correct and are you coaching the players to jump up for the high ball?
MC: The laws are what they are and the players know them. There’s a lot of emphasis being put on the accuracy of the kick and what you’re doing in the air. What we are expecting the players to do is show courage and get up there and to compete for those high balls. There is so much accuracy in kicks these days and with that comes competition in the air. The beauty is if you win those 50/50 collisions the defence is disrupted and spaces are everywhere and you can attack.
The athleticism and size of the guys who are competing for these balls is also increasing – Delon Armitage and Rob Kearney had a big collision [in the Toulon v Leinster Heineken Cup clash] but it was a fair collision and someone came up out with the ball. But they know what they’re doing.
TTT: What makes the best players the best at it?
MC: Attitude, courage and a mentality of, ‘That’s my ball – I’m going to go and get it.’ That intent. Simple as that really. It’s like anything – the big hits, tackles – it’s about the attitude with which you do it. The problem is everybody has that attitude at international level, so it creates that collision in the air.
Mike Catt and Graham Rowntree were speaking at an event for QBE, the business insurance specialist, who are committed to supporting the development of rugby through the QBE Coaching Club. Visit www.QBErugby.com