Rugby’s Inside Man: Part 10: Heart and Soul, the Final Chapter

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The Inside Man is our latest regular contributor who also coaches and has moved to South Africa to do a Sports Diploma at a prestigious Rugby University. Due to the sensitive nature of his material, all names and locations have been altered. The Inside Man will be commenting on coaching styles, difference in playing styles and specific issues within the team and season, while dissecting the incredibly professional and intense structure of South African Rugby

protective-face-maskKRUGER NATIONAL PARK, SOUTH AFRICA:

Part 10: Heart and Soul, the Final Chapter

As with most things in life, it is the small details that we savour the most. People talk about that incredible week or that amazing day, and yet for most of us it is the tiny details, that are personal to us, that we remember with the most affection.

As a rugby coach I believe it is the same. I remember the trophies and victories with joy and pride, but it is the specific moments within a game or a season that stick in my mind. That tackle, the dominance of that one player, the utter savagery we showed in defence, minor details to most, but to me they are my most personal and secret memories and the ones that will live with me through my career.

This experience in South Africa has provided me with a plethora of these memories. It was not a successful season by any standards. The expected victories did not materialize as easily as we thought they would. And being in such a professional environment alone cancels out any melancholy I may feel about the results. I have learnt more in three months than many coaches will learn in their lives. In my mind rugby has moved from being a fan-based passion, into a more cold and calculating game. Every game was followed by a ‘what happened?’ From the players and the coaches, requiring instant recollection and cold hard facts.

Whilst there has been a seismic shift in my technical knowledge, it is the importance of man management that has been reaffirmed in my eyes. 20% technical, 80% man management was the way the Director of Rugby put it. Push the right buttons and actual ability will go out the window, the players will raise their game simply because you asked them to.

Rob Howley and Warren And it is here that the memories begin to take root. I have lived with these players, been in some cases their confidante, argued, bantered and laughed with them all. At this point I should make it clear this is not some vanity exercise about how brilliant I am. It is an expression of my shock and pleasure at having been accepted by these men, coaches and players alike. And I think I can without any doubt say that they have, so I have been told, accepted me, and more importantly, respect me.  The truth is I am still baffled by this, I was not a player, I was not even a coach. I was an intern, a man who stood on the sidelines, helped fill up water bottles whenever possible and occasionally had a word or two of advice, which I whispered very quietly, to the player in question. I was quite literally nobody and yet through my knowledge of rugby they recognized what I hope is a kindred spirit.

I did a one -on-one fitness session with one of the backrowers last week. After the session, he vocalized the team feeling about me as only a forward can. ‘We thought who the f**k is this man coming to watch us?!’, he went on to add though that the respect that had grown up around me was purely based on the drive I had shown to help them in whatever way I could. That, as far as I am concerned, is half the battle. In whatever you are doing, and in this case it was a vicarious form of advising, make the team respect you (not LIKE, RESPECT!) and they will listen to you, they will appreciate you may be a bastard at times, but ultimately you know what you are doing.  The very essence of coaching is unification of purpose, everybody working towards one goal. You cannot have this without respect.

Team USA Select xv Americas Rugby Championship2There are milestones in every coach’s career, moments that are etched in the very fabric of his being for his lifetime. My time here is one of those moments, the point at which the amateur mindset was stripped away to uncover the new steel of professionalism. I have come into the Lions Den and emerged unscathed and a more well rounded coach and person than when I came in. But more importantly for me personally, in amongst all of the memories, is the uncompromising certainty that I have proved I can survive in a high intensity environment.

It is this unwavering knowledge that sustains a coach through the many dark times that there inevitably will be. Not belief, KNOWING, unwavering and unbending. It is something that gives you goosebumps, makes tears well up, something that is so concreted in your mind your body and soul that it may as well be an extra limb. And to the players who create this feeling and these moments? They are the great ones in all of this, the protagonists of the legends that they have created, the icons who will be forever remembered.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Stand and Bow to the men and women who create the greatness of our game, and without whom coaches would not exist.

Catch you later, The Inside Man.

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RWU Co-host Johnathan Wicklow Barberie is the contrived Kiwi rugby personality who can't go ANYWHERE without being asked for an autograph. He always obliges... Matt McCarthy handles the more serious interviews and handles the RWU Sports Desk.