Darren Coleman set the tone early. In mid last year, when he was named to take over 2020 Super Rugby’s basket case club, he told reporters about the ethos passed down to him by late, rugby league playing dad Greg.
“His biggest saying was ‘earn your beer’,” Coleman said back then. “Whatever your sport or your creed was, we trained hard. I’ve got four brothers and we were all big into our footy, and our surf club, cricket, swimming, all those sports that you did, and we all left with really good ethic. And the interesting thing with my brothers is that we’re all football coaches now, all at varying levels. “
DC, as his players and Tahs fans know him, hasn’t strayed far from the family values in an impressive debut as a Super Rugby head coach.
After the Tahs upset the Crusaders in front of rapturous support at Leichhardt Oval, Coleman urged the journos to keep their questions brief so he could enjoy a few coldies, alongside his assistant coaches.
It’s not the first time he’s mentioned his love of the amber nectar after a game, and his down to earth bloke in a bar nature seems to be resonating with all. Of course, winning helps.
“People want to be in this team, people want to play for the Waratahs,” said Wallabies and Tahs centre Izaia Perese on Tuesday.
“It’s created a great competition off the field, on the training paddock, which is then forcing everyone to know their roles, to execute their roles regardless of whether you’re a starter or you’re still yet to play for the Tahs.
“DC, he’s a really good player manager. He gets on well with all the boys. All the guys see him as a genuine bloke, not someone who is scary who you have to walk on eggshells with. He’s very approachable and the boys pick up on that.”
Ahead of the round one game against Fijian Drua, Coleman made it clear that he’d cherished the role for some time.
“With DC it’s complete passion,” Angus Bell said “Before the match he talked about how he’s wanted this job for 20 years and how he’s been building his career as a coach to get to this point.”
Coleman had taken the long way around to his ambition – starting as a NSW Rugby development officer and then into the Shute Shield system, the Brumbies as an assistant, Japan and then as head coach of LA Giltinis in Major League Rugby.
Well regarded in club land, it appears he has been able to keep much of that more laid back approach to footy through his progression to the next level.
“He’s transparent with his thoughts, he keeps guys accountable, he brings a club rugby vibe to a professional rugby environment,” said Waratahs forward Jed Holloway on Tuesday.
“He has a joke with us and is really personable, but then on the field he keeps us really accountable. He really tries to get to know us individually as humans and wants us to be ourselves in this environment.
“Culture’s a loose term that a lot of teams use, but I think he’s one of the best coaches culturally that I’ve been around because he’s done it at multiple Shute Shield clubs and he’s done it at the LA Giltinis and he’s definitely on the right track here with what he’s doing with us lads here at the moment.”
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Coleman has brought belief back to the club, and after a year of miserable defeats there was a sense of excitement and joy coursing through Leichhardt Oval last weekend. His rapport with his assistants is also obvious and they are helping drive the team on.
“Credit to [Jason Gilmore] our defence coach, he took the boys to some dark places during pre-season and it’s definitely showing in our game,” said Perese.
“We’ve put so much hard work into our prep. We know what we’re capable of and say we get a card or the game is too far away and we didn’t execute or make disciplinary mistakes, it hurts so much more because we care and we know we can be one of the best teams now.
“We expect so much of ourselves this year. I think that’s just the standard that DC and Gilly and [Chris Whitaker] and Pauli [Taumoepeau] have put on us.”
Winning games is not just satisfying, but making Coleman’s players more compelling for national honours under Dave Rennie.
“I want to push for the [Wallabies] 13 jersey,” said Perese. “I think 13 is my position and I’ve got things to work on, but that’s happening in the background. Wherever the coaches see me, they see me.”
Holloway, 29, was recently part of Rennie’s first squad of the year on the Gold Coast.
“I think the versatility that I can offer them is awesome, Holloway said. “I’ve had a few conversations with Dave and I really enjoyed them, he seems like a great coach, so hopefully if I can get in that door and get that opportunity that’d be huge for me because the career’s been a bit stop-start and we’re gathering some momentum and I’ve put in a lot of work away the last year-and-a-half.”
With DC at the wheel, Holloway and his teammates get to savour their wins, but are being kept on task.
“In the past we’ve had a tendency to become a little bit complacent after a win, so we’re making sure we’re focused on Moana, they’re a dangerous side,” Holloway said.
“We’re in a pretty nice position after that win on the weekend and for us to go deeper in the competition we’ve got to get better.”
That process started with an honest review of the Crusaders victory.
“DC’s done a great job in allowing us to enjoy the moment and enjoy the result, but once we hit Monday it’s straight back into what we do and that’s reviewing the game from the weekend and even though it was a good win, it wasn’t a great review,” Holloway said.
“There were still a lot of work-ons, I wouldn’t say it was our best performance.
“It was definitely more of a wake up meeting, it wasn’t in terms that we were bad but we can be so much better. It wasn’t necessarily a wake up call, but it was highlighting the areas we can improve and they showed stats that back that up.”
The Tahs are likely to be without Harry Johnson-Holmes for their trip to Auckland to face Moana Pasifika, but Michael Hooper is back in training after his head clash exit.
“Hoops is going alright. He’s been in at training all this week, I was a bit worried for him,” said Holloway.
“He was stumbling around there for a little bit, during the game, with that head knock. I thought it would be a really bad one but the symptoms aren’t hanging around, he seems to be in a good space.”
Holloway said the Tahs were prepared for issues to arise.
“That’s been our mentality all year, it’s just next man up. We lost Dave Porecki and Tom Horton and Mahe Vailanu has barely played any games and then steps up and has a great game for us.
“Charlie Gamble’s been phenomenal for us all year.”