Brisbane Global Rugby Tens coaching summit

mzilikazi Roar Pro

By mzilikazi, mzilikazi is a Roar Pro New author!

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26 Have your say

    I attended this event, which was part of the Tens weekend, on Thursday past at Suncorp Stadium.

    Rod Kafer, the National Coaching Advisory Panel leader, acted as facilitator, with the following interviewed or presenting:

    Robbie Deans, Panasonic Wild Knights, Japan.

    Simon Mannix, Pau, France.

    Scott Robertson, Canterbury Crusaders.

    Michael Cheika and Mick Byrne, Wallabies.

    Rod Kafer began the summit with a short statement of developing an Australian Rugby coaching philosophy, with an emphasis on effective links from the elite level down to ground level. Access to quality people and quality information is a major aim.

    Robbie Deans was the first coach on the podium.

    In response to Rod Kafer’s question on what his style of coaching is, Robbie said that when he began as a coach, he very quickly realised that despite being an elite player, he actually knew very little about coaching or about the role of the coach.

    Main Points
    Coaches are educators. The player must be understood, must enjoy what the coach offers, be stimulated and be extended.

    Messaging is very important. Players will come to reflect what the coach emphasises.

    A player must have a talent base to begin with, must have some natural ability. Beyond that look at character, look for the player who always puts in and has passion.

    As head coach, points of difference must be found for the team and strengths developed. For example, outstanding defence.

    Training sessions must have a good balance of structure and spontaneity.

    Robbie Deans in Wallabies training gear

    (Photo: Supplied)

    One the arts of coaching is being realistic.

    On game day, it is up to the team. The coach should put himself out of a job.

    Links with other sports yields a lot. It is from here that points of difference can come. AFL, NRL and NFL were specifically mentioned.

    On the physical side, there is often nothing between teams. It is the mental side that then becomes critical. This is why champion teams beat teams with champions.

    Always communicate a lot with players. Always find the opportunity for informal contact or discussion and avoid formal face to face meetings. Non-selection should never come as a shock to a player.

    Finally, Robbie talked about the fact that a lot of research into coaching has been done, and two things always emerge:

    1. Good coaches have a lifelong learning desire.

    2. A good coach cares…indeed cares deeply.

    He finished by saying, “players don’t care how much the coach knows until they know the coach cares.”

    Next on the podium was Simon Mannix. As he spoke I assumed he was the coach of Pau, but on running a check, I see he is listed as being General Manager.

    Simon began by talking about his journey to where he now is in Section Paloise Béarn Pyrénées, or as most know it, Pau.

    I have not had the time to do enough research here, but I took from what was said that his French connection began when he went over with the All Blacks as back up to Grant Fox.

    Playing in a game which the All Blacks lost, he became tormented by failure, feeling he was a “traitor to the All Blacks”. He stated that his All Black career was over, aged just 21.

    No mention was made of time with Racing 92. Munster was not easy, with the culture there a difficulty.

    At Pau four years ago, promotion to Top 14 was fairly easy but now the challenge is staying there. This is greatly helped by the signing of two New Zealanders, namely the great Conrad Smith and Colin Slade.

    Simon rates Conrad Smith as one of the great ambassadors for the game, and Colin Slade an incredible athlete. Both are key members of the team, both on and off the field.

    Apart from the playing and coaching pressures, there is huge economic pressure on everyone involved. For a town such as Pau, to drop out of the Top 14 would herald economic disaster.

    Another big challenge facing a coach of a northern hemisphere team is the multinational makeup of squads and the huge range of cultures involved. At Pau, there are ten different nations represented.

    A question was asked from the floor on how player mental health issues are dealt with in the northern hemisphere. This is a very real problem, and especially with very young Pacific Island players brought over with the aim of having them qualify for France.

    These players are now away from their supportive families, their church and their culture. A lot more is being done to support these players now.

    The very long season is another massive challenge to coaches. All kinds of change up scenarios and themes are used. One example given was using the way African wild dog packs operate and attack.

    Apparently, Saracens had used a similar wolf pack theme in the past.

    Finally, there was some discussion on the French national team, and Simon expressed his own opinion that only when a foreign coach is appointed will the great talent and flair of France be fully harnessed and utilised.

    Scott Robertson began by exploring in some depth what is meant by the term culture and the importance of the various facets of a culture.

    Following on, there was a big emphasis on coaches being able to know yourself skillfully, to know who you are and to be yourself.

    Talking to the captain is very important. A once a week dedicated session takes place, but a lot of informal contact and discussion also occurs.

    When questioned on choosing the captain, the response was that with Sam Whitelock at the Crusaders, this was an easy decision. It was the man that the players followed, and the coach-captain relationship was very close and strong.

    Sam Whitelock Crusaders Super Rugby Rugby Union 2016

    (AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)

    If in a different situation where there is not a clear choice, then the players become very important in making the decision on the captain.

    Michael Cheika and Mick Byrne
    Both began by talking about their backgrounds, which I won’t go into here as this is well documented elsewhere and easily accessible.

    A series of questions on screen were answered. I will deal with three.

    1. “What are your strengths as a coach, and how do you work on your weaknesses?”
    Strong leadership, with the ability to give honest feedback.

    A good communicator.

    The ability to make players better than they were before.

    Players know that he cares.

    A generalist, not strong on the detail. Therefore specialist coaches are used.

    Does not like kicking.

    2. “If you could select any player in the world for the Wallabies, not currently eligible, who would it be, and why?”
    The answer was “no one.”

    A question was asked from the floor about a specific player, Nic White. But the answer was still negative. When asked what the situation would be if White returned to play in Australia, the answer was “I would love to have him back.”

    3. “What will be the next big thing in Australian Rugby?”
    Michael Cheika sees a dominant front five as the biggest thing to emerge soon.

    Mick Byrne sees four strong Super franchises as his pick for this one.

    This is my take on this coaching summit. I have merely reported, and not expressed any of my own opinions. I would be interested to hear what others attending got from the four-hour session.

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    The Crowd Says (26)

    • February 12th 2018 @ 5:32am
      Ben said | February 12th 2018 @ 5:32am | ! Report

      “The ability to make players better than they were before.”.
      This is what Cheika thinks is one of his strengths?

      Not sure about that.

      As an example, I havent seen any improvement in Israel Folau, Hes a great player, but theres still a heap of improvement he can make i.e. his kicking, his passing esp left to right, positional play at the back.

      Most of the team seem to have plateued.

      What you want to see with players coming into an international team is actual improvement all over. I just dont see that under Cheika and if he thinks thats one of his strengths then hes kidding himself.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 6:15am
        mzilikazi said | February 12th 2018 @ 6:15am | ! Report

        I would agree with you there, Ben. Folau is a good example, with critical areas of his game that a perceptive coach should be improving.

    • Columnist

      February 12th 2018 @ 8:17am
      Geoff Parkes said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:17am | ! Report

      mz, welcome to the world of article writing and thanks for an excellent summary!

      Cheika may indeed not like kicking but let’s hope that Mick Byrne is working on this aspect with the players regardless. England v Wales demonstrated how a superior kicking game beats an average one.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 9:03am
        mzilikazi said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:03am | ! Report

        Thank you, Geoff. Have not watched any of England v Wales yet, but indeed no team can neglect the kicking side of the game.

    • February 12th 2018 @ 8:47am
      Fionn said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:47am | ! Report

      ‘Does not like kicking.’

      Well, that was quite enlightening.

      Thanks for the illuminating read, mzilikazi!

      It is interesting to see things flipped to how they usually are: Deans is giving the fuller, more complete answer and Cheika is being more evasive, it seems, and not elaborating so much.

      To be fair, however, I do suppose Deans is not currently coach so can be more honest without fear of any sort of consequences.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 12:46pm
        mzilikazi said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

        Thanks, Fionn.

        Yes, agree Deans is in avery different position to MC. Given the level of concern over WB’s many issues, I must admit I was surprised at the lack of “pointy end” questions aimed at MC at this forum. I suppose there must have been no Roarers present amongst the 100 or so coaches present !!

        Another comment MC made that I found interesting was that he does not see himself as a “career coach”. He coaches for the enjoyment element mainly.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 12:59pm
          Fionn said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

          I’m still shocked at the extent to which Cheika has managed to dodge significant criticism in the media compared to Link, Knuckles and Deans given Cheika’s record over these past two seasons.

          • February 12th 2018 @ 5:10pm
            Train Without A Station said | February 12th 2018 @ 5:10pm | ! Report

            Most media comes out of one region though

          • February 12th 2018 @ 5:39pm
            mzilikazi said | February 12th 2018 @ 5:39pm | ! Report

            Ireland looming in June will be, one would think, a real tipping point. A poor showing by WB’s should see real pressure mounting.

    • February 12th 2018 @ 11:12am
      BBA said | February 12th 2018 @ 11:12am | ! Report

      I think its great that there was such a forum. I do note that there does seem to be a difference between the questions and approach to the Australian coaches and the other coaches.

      It sounds like the discussion and debate by the non Australian coaches were more about coaching and their coaching values in general. Where as the questions the Australian team got were very specific to their side, and naturally more defensive. I appreciate that they might be questions that people are interested in but from your overview I suspect it explains while there was a definite differences in feel between the responses from the Australian coaches to the rest.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 1:04pm
        mzilikazi said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

        “I think its great that there was such a forum” Yes, BBA, I always find these opportunities really interesting, and I always get a lot out of them. Over the years I have been fortunate to be able to attend many such events, and hear first hand the thoughts of many top coaches…….and referees as well.

        The vibe I got from the three New Zealanders versus the two Australians was quite different. The New Zealanders were all very dynamic, great body language, very clear that the buck stops with them, ultimate fault is on their “doormat”. All three were nothing but positive about where they are now, and about the teams they are involved with.

        The Australians tended to talk about deficiencies….players not fit, poor skills levels coming into the national squad sessions. Mick Byrne commented that no Australian scrum half can box kick.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 5:45pm
          savant said | February 12th 2018 @ 5:45pm | ! Report

          Both the Australian halves that can box kick are overseas. White and Frisby. But Im surprised a coach at that level would isolate just the skill. Box kicking requires a team approach and coaching the team so that they react to signals, chase, contest, and to drop back and cover a counter kick. Your point about defensiveness is well made and troubling.

          • February 12th 2018 @ 6:06pm
            mzilikazi said | February 12th 2018 @ 6:06pm | ! Report

            Had not read your comment before I wrote below in response to Bill, Savant…interesting we both pick out Frisby. And I am a big believer in White, who is IMO the top Australian scrumhalf at this moment in world rugby…can only hope one or more of the Super Rugby players emerges this year as a real prospect going forward.

          • February 12th 2018 @ 7:42pm
            harry corrigan said | February 12th 2018 @ 7:42pm | ! Report

            Only two players need to know what’s happening, the 9 and the chaser.


            • February 12th 2018 @ 8:47pm
              savant said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:47pm | ! Report

              Outstanding video (and box kick and chase) Harry. But like all out of hand kicks in general play, the whole team needs to be coached about what to do, where to run to, who supports, who defends. For years now, Australian sides collective responses to a kick have not seemed coherent.

              • February 12th 2018 @ 10:08pm
                harry corrigan said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:08pm | ! Report

                “not seemed coherent” beautifully understated.

    • February 12th 2018 @ 1:05pm
      Highlander said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

      Thanks Mz
      Good read
      Comments on the different tones of the coaches by nationality is fascinating – Did no one follow up the Byrne halfback comment with, isn’t that your job to fix?

      • February 12th 2018 @ 5:42pm
        mzilikazi said | February 12th 2018 @ 5:42pm | ! Report

        Cheers, Highlander.

        No, no one did pick that halfback comment up. Worrying really, IMO.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 7:16pm
        ethan said | February 12th 2018 @ 7:16pm | ! Report

        Cheika has devised a plan with no box kicking, and limited kicking in general, so there would be no practice time set aside for Byrne to fix it.

        I agree that coaching to players strengths is important, so the decision to cut the box kick completely has merit, but then again, it is that much easier to prepare for and defend against a side when you know what they’re going to bring, so it does seem like a poor oversight not to let them lob at least one or two up a game.

    • February 12th 2018 @ 3:24pm
      Bill Chapman said | February 12th 2018 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

      Highlander has touched on one of my bug bears and major criticism of Australian coaches in general. At the moment
      1. no Australian Super Rugby halfback can box kick well
      2. the out of hand kicking from %/8’s and for that matter fullbacks and back 3 is woeful
      3. our goal kickers success % is very poor compared to their NZ and SA counterparts.

      I suggest all of these deficiencies are pretty easily fixed with a magical, unheard of approach …………… practice!
      Jonny Wilkinson was well known for soending countless hours outside formal training practising his kicking, the same with Dan Carter. Why oh why aren’t our so called professional Super rugby players going the extra metre to improve these surely basic skills.
      Mick Byrne????

      • Roar Rookie

        February 12th 2018 @ 3:34pm
        piru said | February 12th 2018 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

        It’s not even an extra mile

        It is literally their job to be good at this.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 5:47pm
          savant said | February 12th 2018 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

          Not when their coach says he doesn’t like kicking….

      • February 12th 2018 @ 5:59pm
        mzilikazi said | February 12th 2018 @ 5:59pm | ! Report

        “Highlander has touched on one of my bug bears and major criticism of Australian coaches in general”

        Spot on, Bill. The standard of Australian out of hand kicking is lamentable compared to the top kickers in the world…..think especially of Sexton, Farrell, Murray. And we certainly don’t have place kickers one feels confident with. Foley has very good days of the tee, but then misses abysmally the easiest of kicks.

        I actually don’t agree that our halfbacks can’t box kick. They can on occasion put up good kicks, but the chasers look uncertain and confused as to what to do. Reds v Crusaders at Suncorp last year, perfectly placed kick put up by Frisby. The only chaser of four who had any idea what to do was Smith, who timed his tackle to perfection….but the Crusader catcher had had a free ticket….no one jumping with him to challenge, no one looking for a fumble around the falling ball.

        Practice..absolutly…and Wilkinson is a good one to bring up here, and Dan Carter, who famously had a set of posts in his backgarden to practice his kicks.

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