by Nigel Melville
Nigel Melville Direct
Last Sunday I found myself in the north west of England and so ventured to Lytham St Annes, a traditional English seaside resort where one of my former England coaches, Brian Ashton now resides with his wife Helen. A traditional Sunday lunch in his local pub seemed like a pretty good way to while away a few hours and of course talk about rugby. Poor Helen had to just sit and listen!
Brian is one of the most influential coaches of our time, when I was just 10 years old, my dad took me to watch him play for Lancashire against my beloved Yorkshire, ” watch their scrum half” he said, “that guy understands rugby”, yes he certainly did!
Fast forward 10 or so years and that same scrum half was coaching me in the England set-up, what an inspiration, at last, someone who saw the game a little differently, a man with a vision about how the game should be played.
Just 24 hours earlier I had been at the Stoop, the home of the Harlequins and a chance to watch them play against London Wasps, a traditional London derby, but more importantly a chance for Wasps to win some valuable league points as they fight to survive in the Premiership. Wasps are currently fighting on many fronts to survive, its hard to believe that the Club I captained and coached appears to be in free fall, leadership appears to have ‘jumped ship’ and left a young squad to claw their way to safety – very sad indeed. (Go Wasps against Bath this afternoon)
Unfortunately Wasps were well beaten by a Harlequins side with everything going for it, a stadium that they own, great support, solid management, coaching and hard working players. That was not always the case, but credit where credit is due!
As for the game, I was really surprised how big the players are in the Premiership, built liked armoured vehicles and played like them too. Conditioning is a key part of the sport these days, many hours in the gym may build big bodies, but there seemed to be a lack of flexibility and agility, a focus on physical strength and very little room for skill and guile. It made me wonder if I would have enjoyed playing in the English Premiership, driving up and down the Country, 35 or more games a year knocking the hell out of each other…spending hours in a gym and less time on the training field?
Anyway, back to the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Brian was talking about the games he had been watching and some of the work he has been doing in the lower leagues (very successfully) with Fylde. A team that decided to play a little differently and with that risk came the rewards of league points and a great season for the Club. I call it the ‘little man’ philosophy, recognition that there are other ways to manipulate and beat a defense than running into it and getting your head knocked off. Its about being smart, appreciating space and exploiting it with skills. Its about appreciating attack and understanding defenses.
Driving back to Manchester I reflected on our talk, Brian may be in the twilight of his coaching career, but he is still proving that in the modern game coaches can still be creative and win games. The previous day I got the feeling that the conditioners were creating the game plan and the coaches were sitting in the stands with the rest of us hoping that their teams would win!
I won’t be sharing with you some of his latest thinking until I have worked out if it will work – that’s the beauty of coaching and here’s a suggestion – start thinking like Brian Ashton!
Here’s an article from Brian in today’s Independent newspaper, the role of the scrum half..CLICK HERE
With an impressive resume as player, coach and administrator, Nigel David Melville took over as CEO and President of Rugby Operations of USA Rugby, the National Governing Body of the sport in America, in 2006. In addition to his full time job promoting the sport in the U.S., Melville has launched his own blog, Nigel Melville Direct, to further the discussion and his passion for what it will take to make the U.S. a great rugby playing nation.
CLICK HERE to read more on Nigel Melville
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