Off-Season Masterclass Report

The new rugby season is very much underway now, with the Rugby World Cup also in full swing and generating some great matches and already some very unexpected results.  My coaching focus has also now shifted onto my work at Reigate Grammar School in Surrey and Felsted School in Essex, two really ambitious establishments keen to improve their rugby, as well as at Ampthill RFC where we have begun our life in National 1 with three wins from three!

IMG_0220Just a few weeks ago however everyone was very much in the preseason phase, preparing for the coming winter of matches, and my mind was on the masterclass training camps I organised at Reigate and Ampthill, as well as my Summer rugby Academy at Hatfield, which will be completed for the year after this Sunday’s final session.

I began these classes specifically with the aim of keeping younger players fresh throughout the Summer with handling drills and skills they could practice, steering them away from contact sessions to allow their bodies to recover from the previous season’s efforts, yet keeping their hunger for the game in tact and fuelling their passion for rugby.

In the first week of September I then switched to an all-round rugby masterclass spread over two days at Ampthill RFC where the different age groups were split depending on the applicable rules, with specific exercises and drills to benefit the players whether in a tag, conditioned tackle or unrestricted environment.  The emphasis was placed on learning through fun and of course there was a definite focus on correct technique throughout.  I was overwhelmed at the response of the players on the pitch and also extremely grateful to parents who took the time to email with compliments and kind comments about the sessions in the days after the events.

IMG_0187On Wednesday at Ampthill I also held a specialist kicking clinic for players aged 11-17, which included a condensed version of some of the skills I have imparted to my Academy attendees over the Summer.  Simple instruction on exactly how to hold a ball when kicking and where to strike to get the desired result make a huge difference when practised until they become second nature in game time.  Also, the ability to kick just as well off both feet gives a player a big advantage and helps break down defences in attack as well as greatly enhancing a team’s exit strategy.

These are some examples of why these camps are so vital, and the feedback shows that as well as developing technique, we are also enthusing youngsters about playing the sport, and this makes my job so pleasurable.  Now into the season, there is just one more opportunity to join me for a masterclass this month, at my final academy session on September 27th.  Following this, keep an eye out for additional sessions during the October half term, or contact me to organise some individual coaching or sessions for a small group or team.  I look forward to having the opportunity to work with you in the near future and please do contact me with any enquiry you may have on: mail@PaulTurnerSport.co.uk.

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The Importance of Summer Training for Young Players

Unlike the professional rugby season, there is a prolonged break from playing for younger rugby players who often finish their last games in April or May and are chomping at the bit to get back on the field when the season officially begins again in September.

Whilst a break from the game is vital, both in terms of recovery from injuries and exertion, but also to ensure the hunger remains and interest does not wane, it is however not advisable to stay away from rugby completely for over three months.  The most committed players, even at a younger age will, after a period of recuperation, begin pre-season training with some lighter running sessions to sharpen themselves up and ensure they maintain a good base fitness level.

I would suggest that general fitness should indeed be maintained, perhaps not exclusively through running however (try cycling or swimming for less intensity and pressure on the joints), but I would absolutely recommend that any player works on his or her skill levels consistently over the summer recess.  These skills are the very basis of what make a great player, and it is these skills that can make or break a game when the season begins.

Players work consistently throughout a season to develop their skills, only to neglect them come the Summer holidays.  In my opinion this is counter-intuitive, it is far better to concentrate on skills at a time when there are fewer distractions and matches to fit in, and therefore arrive at the beginning of the season with an already well-developed skill level, as opposed to losing skill-level over the break and having to start from the bottom again when September comes.

This is why my summer sessions with players focus almost exclusively on skills levels and techniques – using hands and feet to manipulate the ball from both sides and to develop spatial awareness and performance under pressure.  Players who join me over the Summer always remark on how far advanced they feel when compared to their peers once the season starts.  The drills I use are not designed to tire a player out, but instead to develop good habits and technique that become second nature in a game environment.  During the winter, I then hone, top-up and build on these skills in one to one lessons, but my summer masterclasses and Academy sessions give the perfect base to young and developing players, and I would therefore invite you to join me at one or more of my forthcoming events, to gain an advantage on your opposition when the season begins!

To see and book your spot on any of our available sessions, please visit the Masterclass page.
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Disney Junior Rugby Festival 2015

9105It’s a busy time of year for Paul Turner Sport as we’ve been setting up the brand new Skills Academy, which began on 7th June, whilst the dust has really only just settled on another successful Disney Junior Rugby Festival.

Despite returning almost three months ago, the final paperwork and debrief meeting with Sport Experiences have only just been finalised and we can now begin to look ahead now to next year’s event, and start the process all over again.

This year was fantastic however, with 24 teams spread across the three age groups – Under 13, Under 14 and Under 15 – providing some cracking entertainment with some enthralling matches and great skills on the pitch. Off the pitch, there was the usual mix of laughter and fun as the youngsters, and their coaches, toured the Disney parks seeking thrills on the rides and the obligatory photo or two with the Disney characters!

9157For our part, the team of coaches we took over – George Chuter, Paul Burke, Alix Popham, Ma’ama Molitika, Morgan Stoddart, Gavin Thomas, Will James, Nic Sestaret, Tony Yapp, Jack Heald and Phil Williams – to accompany me, were all impressed with the attitude of the players who participated. Our Tuesday coaching masterclasses included three skills workshops looking at the core techniques of Breakdown Work, Creating Space and General Skills, as well a more specific positional session with drills relevant to each player.

9131All of the coaches I spoke with expressed how pleased they were with the way the Rugby Festival at Meaux was run and how much their players had learned from the coaching day we had put together. The value for money was another winner, many sounding surprised as they realised just what was included in the low cost! And of course, speaking with the boys who attended, they were all thrilled at having the opportunity to visit the Disney Parks and ride the attractions on a rugby tour; the smiles really said it all! All of this was of course topped off by the presentation event where the players were able to meet Welsh internationals Jamie Roberts and Luke Charteris and obtain autographs and pose for photos.

After all, the blend of rugby-based activity, skills progression, star player meetings and fun at Disney is what sets the event apart from other, more formulaic, rugby tours. This is why the rate of schools returning year on year is so high, and why more and more schools are coming along at Easter, a trend that looks set to continue in 2016.

Many teams, from both schools and clubs, will be touring at Easter 2016, and I would echo the thoughts of those who came in 2015 in urging you to consider a trip to Disney for a fun-packed 5 day visit that will improve your players skills and provide a sport experience you will never forget. For more information, please click here to download the brochure, or email us here!

All new bookings quoting code “PTS16″ will receive FREE tour T-Shirts for their entire party!


TURNER PAINTS REIGATE SEVENS MASTERPIECE

On Tuesday 24th March, Reigate Grammar School began their Rosslyn Park Colts (Under 16’s) Sevens Campaign for 2015, in the knowledge that their coaches had prepared them well for a shot at the title for the first time since 1975 and coming off the back of a tournament win in the Queen Elizabeth, Barnet Sevens event.

Drawn in a pool with Wimbledon College, London Oratory School, Llangatwg Community School and a strong Ysgol Y Preseli side, Reigate showed some real class in convincingly beating all four opponents, scoring some well crafted tries and proving their mettle in defence, only letting in two tries all day.  Ultimately they qualified with ease for the knock-out stages on day two, topping their group with a 100% record and a massive 178 points difference on the day.

Paul Turner arrives at the Rosslyn Park Sevens

Paul Turner arrives at the Rosslyn Park Sevens

As with any team, in any sport, a good basis of natural talent is certainly an advantage for a coaching team, but in rugby, basic core skills are vital and a real focus of Reigate Rugby Pro Paul Turner who works closely alongside Doug Cooper and Alan Reid in the school.  Turner’s pedigree is second to none, through his own glittering playing career and also developing players as a Level 4 coach, and Cooper and Reid are great professionals in their own right.  All three work cohesively, diligently preparing the Reigate teams for any fixture, and the Sevens team that appeared at Rosslyn Park was certainly no exception.  Reid is understandably pleased to have Turner as part of his coaching team, saying “It has been great to have Paul working with the boys this season. With his depth of knowledge and experience of coaching and playing at all levels, he has made a tremendous contribution to the boys’ progress throughout the year, both in terms of individual player development, but also with team tactics and game management.”

Their players themselves all clearly understand the value of reading the game and using both hands and feet to put the opposition on the back foot and create opportunities where none seem to exist.  On day one at Rosslyn, it was fantastic to see exactly these kinds of skills being executed on the field of play and coaches always find it rewarding to see players implementing the techniques they have been building over a period of many months.

On day two, the cream had risen to the top, and it was obvious that the teams Reigate Grammar would face in the knock-out stages would be a much tougher proposition.  This is where the Sevens-specific training sessions they had implemented on the school fields would really come into play.  In contrast to the 15-a-side game where a scramble defence or less structured game can be managed, in the shorter format with less players on the pitch, such a break-up of play could easily prove catastrophic if you are not the dominant and driving force at the time.  With more open space to cover and abnormal set-piece play, a winning team requires solid, structured and manageable systems of play.  This was exactly what the Reigate coaching team had worked so hard to develop to ensure it became second nature on the big stage at Rosslyn.

Full credit to their team for playing with belief in those systems and giving their all in every game, for they really are an aesthetically pleasing side to watch.  In round two and the quarter final the team left off exactly where it had finished the day previously, seeing off Wallington County Grammar School and Wellington College emphatically, again conceding just one try in each match.  In the semi-final, the quality of the teams was exceptionally high with Eton College scraping past Millfield School, whilst the Reigate team secured a more comfortable victory 28-12 against Stowe School.

In the final, both sets of teams were obviously determined to win but did not let expectation or pressure get the better of them as they produced a thrilling display of sevens rugby.  Eton coach Ian Swan, originally hailing from Neath, had clearly done his homework since his side’s loss to Reigate in the semi-final of the Barnet Queen Elizabeth tournament, with the result that the final was a hard-fought and close affair. To the delight of the Reigate players and coaches, it was they who came out on top, winning 24-19 to lift the Rosslyn Park Colts Sevens trophy for the first time in forty years!  Paul Turner was as pleased as anyone, having been on a three year journey with his players.  He said “I’m very proud to have worked with these players over the past three years and I always knew they were a group of players capable of absorbing the techniques and skills I was passing on to them.  Personally, I am not that surprised with the outcome as I always knew they were capable of winning a major tournament or two”.

Reigate Grammar School, winners of the Colts competition 2015

Reigate Grammar School, winners of the Colts competition 2015

All of the Reigate players performed admirably not only individually, but also as a collective unit throughout the tournament.  Alex Skinner’s vision and Max Coyle’s outstanding finishing marked them out as two of the players of tournament.  Lucas Overtoom’s restarts and game control was as good as any you will see over the whole month of sevens tournaments, Henry McCann bravely recovered 80% of restarts on the run, a fantastic and brave natural skill it would be impossible to coach, and Paul Marshall worked tirelessly at the breakdown.  Joe Gregson, Ollie Brooks,George Blackburn, James Bennett, Charlie Bennett, Sean Watters and Billy Elliston all played their part in an impressive team performance over both days.  This is clearly a talented bunch of young players who know how to focus in and achieve their goal on match day and anyone who had watched the Tuesday pool games would have seen the shape and ability of this team, and recognised the input of the coaches and the distinctive style of play masterminded by the Rugby Pro.

This victory has to be up there with some of the school’s greatest triumphs after what has been quite a number of lean years.  There are now signs of a good progression plan coming into place with a supportive and talented group of staff who understand the need to follow it, and more victories should follow on soon.  The coaching staff should all be immensely proud of nurturing a talented but unfancied group of youngsters enabling them to play with such skills and freedom, whilst operating within a prescribed framework and in a manner that enabled them to see off heavyweight schools from elsewhere in the UK.  These players are more than capable of going on to further their own rugby careers in the years to come.

One other certainty however, is that with a such stability in the coaching staff and a solid rugby ethos developing at Reigate Grammar School, other teams entering the Rosslyn Park Sevens in the future should certainly be very wary of facing the Surrey side.

A Poor Quality Six Nations in World Cup Year

The Six Nations may be the jewel in the crown of the Northern Hemisphere rugby season with all of the history and rivalry it entails, but some of the matches played so far this season have been dour, with skills and spatial awareness at times sparse or even completely absent.

Last weekend’s European derby in Rome was a real fast-forward-frenzy, perfectly formed for the Sky+ era with only about 5 minutes of play worth enduring at normal speed.  Forget the thrills; this was all about the spills as players from both teams juggled the ball like inexperienced clowns, time and again allowing it to fall to the deck.  What a depressingly poor quality match, and a terrible advert for the tournament as a whole.  Indeed, all of the French matches have been pretty dire thus far, and a far cry from the resplendent offloads and mazy running lines of days gone by.

Even when angles are cut and half-breaks made, try scoring opportunities are squandered and opportunities go to waste.  England has the most creative backline in the Championship and created several gilt edged chances against Scotland but failed to complete the job time and again.  In Cardiff, Wales defended heroically on their own line but the Irish must have been wearing Gold Cup blinkers as they pummeled away around the fringes and spurned countless men over on the wide outside.  As good as the result was for Wales, and as enjoyable as the tight games may have been for the fans, realistically one has to say that the lack of composure and clinical finishing does not bode well for the forthcoming World Cup.

Contrast the game in the North to the rugby in the Southern Hemisphere.  The Super 15 season is not long underway and the games are electric, the offloads come thick and fast and there is a much bigger emphasis on attack.  That isn’t to say that defensive duties are neglected, in fact far from it.  There are some bone crunching hits, well won turnovers and solid counter-rucks, but teams aren’t wasting time grappling on the floor to slow opposition possession, or simply trying to win a long-winded territory battle with the boot.  Instead, they concentrate on handling skills and working hard to break down defences with deft running lines, neat offloads and intelligent support play.  Fitness levels in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa must be immense; players are working so hard with and without the ball for 80 minutes, providing an enthralling spectacle week in, week out.  Come the World Cup in October, when the cream has risen to the top and players have been in International training camps for a few weeks, these teams could prove unplayable for the Northern Hemisphere outfits that seem to be playing at a far slower pace.

That isn’t to say there have been no rays of light in this year’s Six Nations, as the emergence of some new players onto international the scene have been a revelation.  The Italian lock Biagi, France’s Scott Spedding and La Rochelle Number 8 Goujon as well as a trio of centres from England, Ireland and Scotland – Jonathan Joseph, Robbie Henshaw and Mark Bennett have all proved their worth, with the Bath centre in particular taking his creative club form straight onto the Six Nations stage.  But what I’ve felt has really been missing is the intent from teams to go for the jugular and kill off the opposition with heavy scores.  Perhaps this is something a bonus point structure could address?  After all, the 6 Nations is now the only annual rugby tournament still not using points-scoring incentives of any kind.  Maybe now is the right time to break with tradition and introduce bonus points to improve the spectacle and encourage teams to play with a more attacking mind-set?  This year’s table might well look the same if bonus points were accounted for, but that simply reinforces the belief that no-one is really playing with enough ambition or desire to score more tries than they absolutely require to win.  Who knows just how the results could have been impacted had the extra point incentives been in play?

Overall, this year’s Six Nations has been rather disappointing and lacking a certain “je ne sais quoi”, as maybe teams have a bigger prize in mind and one eye on the World Cup in the autumn.  For all the excitement and importance placed on the final table at the end of this Saturday’s games, perhaps though we should be wary about proclamations and predictions of who will do what when the tournament kicks off in September.  Last Saturday, Wales did do well to beat a tough Irish team, and England did show they could make a break or two, but each and every team in this year’s Six Nations will have to reduce their error count significantly if they have great aspirations later on this year.  Come to think of it, perhaps the French have developed a cunning plan to get all of their mistakes cleared out of the way before the tournament gets underway in September…..

#StayStrongForOws Grand Prize Draw

Fund raising is not something I am particularly used to doing personally.  If the truth be told, I find it quite difficult asking for money from others, not least because this seems to be a daily activity most of us will encounter already whether in the street, online or on TV.  However, this year I have made a commitment to do my best to raise funds for former Welsh International Owen Williams, as has my colleague Gareth who is participating in several sporting events, beginning with the Paris Marathon in just a few weeks’ time.

One of the ways we have hit upon to raise funds is to hold a prize draw for everyone who donates £10 (or multiple thereof).  To encourage entries, we needed to get some pretty spectacular prizes together and I think we have just about managed to do that!  Thanks to a few of my contacts over my playing and coaching career, I was able to put out a few calls and the response was amazing.  Not one person turned down my request when they heard who the money would be for, and this really epitomises the strength of feeling in the rugby community and the support for Owen and the whole #StayStrongForOws campaign.

Thanks to the Welsh players in Paris, and particularly to Luke Charteris, we are able to offer a signed Racing Metro jersey as a prize for one lucky winner.  This is a really special piece of memorabilia, and something which is would be almost unique in the UK.  This is a really big prize for someone to win and it alone should pique the interest of most rugby fans, and will hopefully encourage many to donate a tenner to such a worthwhile cause to have a chance of winning it.

PrizesSeparately, through contacts in Wales we have pairs of tickets to regional games, including one derby (Scarlets v Blues) available and one potentially decisive fixture at the Liberty Stadium between Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors in May.  I’ve also been provided with a signed Newport Gwent Dragons shirt and Gareth will be getting a signed #StayStrongForOws ball from the Cardiff Blues.

Naturally these prizes are great and hopefully will encourage more donations.  Whether you decide to donate to enter the prize draw, or in recognition of Gareth’s exploits, or both, you can rest assured that everybody who joins us in donating to Owen and his family will, I am certain, be winners in their eyes.  So please do give all you can, cross your fingers and hopefully you may win a prize.  Tell all your friends and family to enter too and let’s work together to generate a good amount to help Owen in his recovery.

The Clairvoyance of IWRTV

When I co-founded IWRTV a little over a year ago, the landscape of Welsh rugby was bleak, perhaps as bleak as it had ever been.  Many words have been written about this period of Welsh rugby by amateur bloggers and the disastrous state the game was in and how it got there.  IWRTV was however, in my opinion, a little different.  We gave a voice to the grassroots clubs in a format they had not benefitted from for some time, and used experienced panel members to articulate their views on the problems in and around rugby in Wales.  Given the independent nature of the programme, we were able to freely and openly discuss these, and almost immediately the audience was captivated and complimentary.  What transpired over the course of the shows was, in retrospect, quite clairvoyant in how the situation was assessed and solutions suggested to overcome the problems.  Looking back over them now with hindsight, it is pleasing to think how we played our part in events of the last year, even once we had stopped broadcasting.

In episode one, Ben Jeffreys lamented the league structure and spoke about how the grassroots clubs were being ignored, a theme that carried through pretty much every subsequent show thereafter.  I joined with other panellists voicing concerns about how the new leagues, initially imposed with very little consultation or empathy for the clubs and their supporters, was leading to a feeling of resentment and would cause a larger problem sooner or later.  And so it transpired, with the EGM call largely set-up on the back of league restructuring issues.  In June, the clubs were by and large placated with reassurances of consultation, but the wheels of change had been set in motion.

Stephen Jones, of the Sunday Times, spoke of the need to market the game better at the lower level and bemoaned the missed opportunities to promote the sport.  Elsewhere, we were praised by club secretaries and regional Chief Executives for exposing the lower echelons to a wider public, showing off the talents of amateur players and generating interest for commercial partners at clubs, who in turn could benefit from greater revenue.  Although we were effectively “shut down” and stopped from showing the games, it was pretty obvious that interest within the clubs had stirred and they had begun to question why they too couldn’t enjoy some kind of coverage of this sort.

David Moffett had of course re-entered the fray and made key points about the WRU finances.  Again IWRTV took the lead with an exclusive interview, asking insightful questions and ensuring club members could hear all sides of the debate and make a balanced judgement.  Whilst others chose to overlook many of his actions and neglected to interview him directly, IWRTV preferred to retain an entirely open stance, although sadly our invitations to the WRU to join us on the show were refused on more than one occasion.

Our final episode lasted a full hour, even without footage, and proved the most profound of all.  Gareth Davies, still CEO of the Newport Gwent Dragons at the time, predicted that until a positive relationship could be found between the regions and the Union, arguments would perpetuate.  In typically robust fashion, Spike Watkins proclaimed Roger Lewis to be the sticking point and maintained that progress would not be made without his removal and a change in the Chairman of the Union.  Within months of the programme being broadcast, Gareth Davies had succeeded David Pickering, and soon after Lewis announced his resignation as CEO.  The tide had turned in the manner IWRTV had predicted in its short six month lifespan.

One prediction though remains outstanding, and that concerns the more distant future and the fate of Welsh rugby over the next 5 years.  Peter Jackson and Andrew Hore both echoed my own comments that the decisions made right now may not be felt today, but in years to come.  Hore went on to state that the legacy of the board can in fact only be judged at that time, and not in the immediate aftermath.  So for all of the current trumpeting in certain quarters, perhaps we should be mindful that Welsh rugby could be on the precipice for a few seasons yet to come.

Maybe one day IWRTV can make a comeback and hopefully continue to fill the vacuum in publicity for those grassroots clubs that so need our support, one can only hope.  For all of us who participated in the show however, it was an unmitigated success, moving the debate along and foreseeing the future.  The path may have seemed obvious to most, even without a crystal ball, but without the courage to speak and the platform to publicise, it is quite feasible that these developments could have remained simply pipe dreams.

A Calamitous Climax in Murrayfield

After I described last week at the Millennium Stadium as a farce, I hardly expected to be trumped in the very next match, but how wrong I was!  A dramatic end to the game for sure, but the tension could, and should, have been ramped up yet another notch.  It was truly farcical how nobody knew whether the match had ended or whether there would be one last play once Scotland scored their try after battering away at the Welsh line!  At home we could all clearly see that seconds remained after Laidlaw’s conversion and that Wales should have restarted, yet on a difficult day for Glen Jackson, he opted to consult the TMO who duly gave him the wrong information!

How does Rugby Union, and in particular the Six Nations keep on doing this to itself?  The clock in the corner of the screen, generally seen around the grounds too, is meant to avoid this kind of problem, but it doesn’t.  The thrills and spills of a dramatic final play were allowed to proceed in 2010 where Wales showed impressive ball retention skills against a short-handed Scottish defence before Shane Williams dived under the posts to seal the result.  And who can forget the infamous “10 seconds” Chris White accorded to Wales in Rome in 2007 when James Hook quickly kicked to the corner in the hope of securing lineout possession and crossing the whitewash to win the game, spurning a kick at goal to draw.  As Wales prepared to throw, White proceeded to ask TMO Geoff Warren for a time check before blowing for full time, to the consternation and dismay of those in red.  The man with the whistle, as things currently stand, is the sole arbiter of the watch yet it seems as though on pitch officials are happy to defer to someone else when it comes to timekeeping.

On the same weekend as the missing seconds in Scotland, a similar overtime scenario played out in the Super 15 competition 6,000 miles away in South Africa.  As the Sharks chased a win against the Cheetahs in Durban, the ball was kicked into touch with the clock reading 79 minutes and 55 seconds.  Unlike in Murrayfield, the on-field referee Rohan Hoffmann – without needing to consult the TMO – clearly and correctly explained to the players that although the clock had turned red by the time the line-out had formed, there would in fact be time for a last play.  This duly took place with the final whistle eventually blown at 81.30.  In South Africa, unlike in Scotland, the officiating team did a great job and without any fuss, demonstrating the distance Super 15 officials are ahead in terms of organisation and decisiveness compared to their Northern Hemisphere counterparts.

Other sports, and in particular Rugby League must look at instances such as the one last Sunday and snigger.  They have adapted their game beyond compare over consecutive seasons, now stretching to TMO’s explaining decisions to the crowd, much like an NFL umpire in the USA.  In Rugby League, timing is clear, a hooter sounds when the time is up and no-one is under any illusions as to whether there will be a “next play”.  In Ice Hockey, there is a buzzer for the same reason and we have even seen hooters used in Southern Hemisphere Union games, so why not introduce it now to the Six Nations?  This is really the only sure-fire way to eliminate all element of doubt come the end of the match.

Having said that, it still requires a time-keeper with a diligent eye and precise hand to stop the clock at the right time and restart it again on the referee’s say-so.  Many sports manage this simply enough, so surely it would also prove a resounding success in the Six Nations as well, although you have to wonder given recent timekeeping history!  The viewing public seem more aware of the clock and the laws surrounding the end of the game than some of the officials who call time when there are seconds still to play.  Correctly and accurately implemented however, there is no reason to believe that the introduction of a league-style hooter would be anything other than a positive innovation, and one which referees like Glen Jackson would surely also welcome.

Why I’m Supporting #StayStrongForOws

First posted on this fund raising blog on 8th February 2015.

I admired Owen Williams’ talent as a player as I watched him develop through the ranks.  He has an old head on young shoulders and his brutish physical stature belied the deft touches and finesse of his game.  He was an all-rounder, and, so I’m told, a very grounded and level headed person to be around.  He had already pulled on the red shirt of Wales and looked immediately comfortable, like he belonged.  Many more caps were surely to follow.

What happened to Owen in Singapore was truly awful.  It was no-one’s fault, a freak accident, but one with devastating consequences for Owen himself of course, and for his family.  His rugby career was ended in one split second but his battles are still only at their beginning.  Every day he inches along the road to recovery, with the support of a close-knit family, his community club at Aberdare and of course his region, Cardiff Blues.  Owen’s situation resonates with every player who has ever played the game, and with every partner, parent or sibling who has watched.  The sport is one we deeply love, but one in which there are risks that we accept as we cross the whitewash.  Rugby brings people together, and those bonds are being demonstrated across the World as the rugby community joins together to support Owen in his recovery.

Gareth works for me in my Sport Business.  He had been providing me with consultative support for about four months when he mentioned the challenges he was hoping to undertake in 2015 and asked for my help.  Whilst I admire his determination and ambition, I couldn’t help but think he might have bitten off more than he could chew!  How many marathons had he done previously?  None, yet here was he telling me he would be running in Paris!  And more importantly, how many triathlons had he competed in?  Again, none!  But he planned to jump in at the deep end and sign up for Ironman Wales in Tenby!

I offered to support Gareth and we discussed raising money for a worthwhile cause.  Having been involved in rugby all my life and particularly spending many hours mentoring and nurturing younger players, just like Owen, I was passionate that his was the cause we should be donating to.  Gareth agreed wholeheartedly and approached Cardiff Blues for their blessing, which we duly received last week.  We have set an ambitious, but achievable target of £5,000 for the year, although of course we hope to raise more for Owen if we possibly can!

Gareth will also be joining the Cardiff Blues cycle ride to Paris in June if we can raise enough money (£2,000) in time, and of course his training will continue for the next seven and a half months.  Both of us will in the meantime be working tirelessly to promote his endeavours and spread the message, which will hopefully enable us to exceed our targets.

All I can say is this: if you can afford to give, even just a little, please help.  You can donate here.  If you know of anyone, or any company who can help publicise this fundraising effort, or make a donation, please contact us, or pass our details on.

Thank you all for your anticipated support.

PT

The Friday Farce

Well, what a let down Friday was for a Welsh rugby fan!  The awful decision to hold the game on a Friday night was just the start of it.  And we already know it won’t be for the final time, with a Friday night fixture already announced for the next two championships, presumably at the behest of the broadcasters with the usual scant regard for what the paying supporters actually would prefer.

And what on earth was the “light show” before the match all about?  Added to the now obligatory fireworks and the comfortable salary afforded to the CEO of the Welsh Rugby Union, anyone would think Welsh rugby has more money than it knows what to do with but of course that simply isn’t the case!  Grassroots clubs must be livid when they see their own money literally being burned in front of their eyes, a lavish spectacle lasting a couple of minutes preferred to the investment in club rugby and nurturing young talent and the future generation of Welsh players.  And they would rightly be annoyed when they consider what the CEO takes home for organising discos such as this one.

What is wrong with the band and choral hymns of old?  If that isn’t enough of a spectacle, well what about asking youngsters to perform some traditional Welsh dances?  Or getting the Under 20’s or Ladies teams to play a curtain raiser on a newly laid part-artificial turf that should easily now stand up to two games in one day?  What we were left with was more pop concert than sport and meant a complete lack of respect for the anthems as large electrical units were wheeled from the pitch during their singing so as not to delay the kick off.  One can only imagine what was spent on this spectacle all together.

As for the game itself, the result was certainly not what was expected from a solid and settled Welsh side, at home.  For all the horseplay about the roof, England left with no reason to accede to Welsh requests to close it ever again.  After a good start, Welsh fragilities began to show.  A complete lack of creativity behind the scrum was exposed as Wales failed to unlock the English defence.  In fact, it is difficult to remember Wales’ last clean line break and score full stop.  England on the other hand settled down and destabilised the opposition with fast footed players.  Ford, Joseph, Watson and Brown regularly stepped and jinked past first tackles and attacked weak shoulders.

Again Wales seemed to have no plan “B”.  The most creative player in their squad, Liam Williams, was left kicking his heels on the bench having looked hungry for the 8 minutes in which he replaced George North.  He, and Justin Tipuric, had the ability to at least change the style of the home team’s play but were not required on the day, even as Wales sought a way back in the second half.

Recent matches have demonstrated the big differences in the development structure of the two countries.  England are bringing their Under 20’s stars through the ranks, playing them in their “A” side and affording them a step up from Premiership rugby.  When they perform well, like Henry Slade, they are then added to the senior squad.  England seem to value their own young and creative talent whereas in Wales we are currently confining them to bit part roles.  Creative players in Wales are presently far less popular than larger physical specimens.  What has happened to Welsh flair and creativity?  Since the retirement of Shane Williams the team has lacked an X Factor player and is in desperate need of at least two in the backline.

Indeed what a farce last Friday turned out to be for a Welshman!  The WRU though, was as proficient as always in creating a spectacle using smoke and shadows, as it did on the night.  Hopefully though it was the grassroots clubs who truly saw the light and will begin to force for the changes in regime that are desperately needed in order to save our national sport.