How did you end up in North Wales?
I originally came to work for the WRU as a National Academy Skills Coach. I had been Head of Performance at Huddersfield Giants in Super League and before that held numerous senior-coaching roles in Rugby League (Leeds Rhinos, London Broncos at club level and with Great Britain RL at International level) and in Rugby Union (Leicester Tigers at club level and England 7s, England A, England U19s and the Spanish National XVs at international level).
Joe Lydon, who was the Head of National Performance for the WRU, was keen to have a real go and give North Wales a credible rugby identity. It existed as an Academy but the previous senior team had been full of overseas players and hadn’t been able to bring everyone together in a way that could establish RGC as the team of the region.
I was appointed as Head of Rugby with control of all rugby matters, Chris Horsman was Head Coach of the Senior team and Rupert Moon was General Manager.
What are your memories of your time at RGC?
It was a very rewarding and happy experience in North Wales. As soon as I read this question my first thoughts were of the people who were the backbone of the organisation. Will Morecombe and the late, lamented Bill Parry did so much unheralded work and were great friends, Andy Jones (Analyst), Ash James (Physio), Scott Lawson (media), Marc Roberts (Academy) and all those fantastic players who contributed so much. The fact that many of them travelled across North Wales after a long days work without complaint to build the team and make it a success will always be with me. Chris, Rupert and I lived on various caravan sites during those early years and when we weren’t talking rugby long into the night we were on the road across the country taking the RGC message to as many clubs as we could.
Looking back what are the highlights?
The whole thing was a highlight. Winning the Division 1 East against all the odds was great, playing and nearly toppling the Georgia national team was up there. However I think most of our success was built around the ‘togetherness’ of the group and the camaraderie of my time at RGC is still a happy memory. Culture is a trendy thing in sports chat these days but it shouldn’t be underestimated. We came up against an awful lot of resistance from the established clubs in South Wales, which initially led to our first six or seven fixtures being played away in South Wales. Those long, long journeys every Saturday were the perfect way for us to build ‘togetherness’ and they were raucous, noisy and loud affairs!! Towards the end of the season when we couldn’t afford to slip up we were losing heavily at half time (at Rumney I think). We staged a great fight back in the second half and there’s a great clip of Rupert Moon jumping for joy behind the posts as Rhodri Carlton-Jones put Richard Hopkins in for the winning try – happy days.
Where has your rugby journey taken you after RGC and what life is like in the current role?
I left RGC to re-join the England 7s towards the end of 2013. In 2015 I was appointed as Head Coach of Samoa 7s. I was the first overseas coach to be appointed and it was an interesting experience to say the least. I could fill a book on the rollercoaster ride that is Samoan rugby. The players were wonderful, however off the field it’s a different story. There was no staff in place, no playing squad established and after several years without success lots of negativity around. I must admit I thought longingly of Parc Erias when I took my first training session on a rock-strewn piece of long grass that was supposed to be the High Performance Unit.
Rugby is everything in the country. Every move, every decision, every selection is big news. The politics and power grabs have to be seen, to be believed. That said we had success on the World Series and missed out agonisingly on Olympic qualification in injury time of the final qualifier.
My wife and I loved every second of our time in the South Pacific and they are wonderful people but I finally fell foul of the political manoeuvrings and was sacked in September 2016, but still to this day have never been told why. However I was appointed immediately as the Head Coach of the Canadian 7s team. I arrived to find the players were on strike, which made life interesting. But it was another very happy time and we settled into life on Vancouver Island. We made history by winning in Singapore on the World Series but then lost almost a million dollars in funding from the Olympic Committee which caused more cut backs and loss of players and staff. The struggles of the National XVs team and financial issues led to another player strike and ultimately to my departure. I am currently Head Coach of the German 7s team and enjoying every minute. As you might expect we are a minority sport but there are some very talented players. The National 7s team have almost made the World Series on several occasions and we were on the brink of breaking through before the Pandemic hit. We won the first World Rugby 7s Challenger Series in Chile in February this year, which was for all the countries who were trying to qualify for the main series.
Did RGC helped develop you in some way?
Of course RGC had a big impact on me. It was a great lesson on how success can be achieved if no one cares who gets the credit. I mentioned those names earlier that contributed so much but I know there are many others who did just the same. It underlined to me how important teamwork is on and off the field. When things are established it’s much easier to get more people involved. The tough part is building the bandwagon and getting good people to put their shoulder to the wheel and get it moving. I was lucky to have two guys I regard as good friends to give me perspective and advice.
Chris Horsman is one of the best young coaches around who also just happens to be a good guy. Rupert Moon was the big name rugby icon, who was the ‘face’ of RGC, it was an education to watch him connect with people of all ages and standing in life. His infectious personality kept everything moving forward.
All the best