"Coaching" Rugby Union in a Pandemic

Upon moving to Singapore, I had zero intention on being involved in rugby union again. I had finished playing, didn’t enjoy coaching it and to be honest, feeling very fed up with even watching it.
 
Rugby has been in my blood since a young age, but when leaving Melbourne, I felt I didn’t owe the game anything anymore. I was a little bitter with rugby and fell out of love with it. My interest came back following some conversations I had been having with clients, friends and colleagues about glory days. The type of yarns you have at the back of the bus with your teammates. The good times, the banter, the stories. That made me thirsty to get back in the mixer. Rugby ain’t so bad after all!
 
Throw it back to January 6th 2020 and leaving a big blonde South African “blue ticked” on WhatsApp. I received a message from the President of Wanderers Rugby Club in Singapore asking if I would have any interest in playing or coaching rugby for the club. This wasn't the first message I had received from a Singaporean Rugby Club, to be honest, there was fresh meat in town!
 
I had arrived in Singapore and was keen to get my strength and conditioning business thriving and giving my job a good crack. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t put rugby first like I had my whole life, but instead devote myself to getting better as a strength and conditioning coach for general population clients. Rugby used to take priority from job’s, relationships and studies, so the awareness was already there about what the commitment from myself would mean. Some of my ex girlfriends and employers can attest to this!
 
April 2020 I receive another message from the Saffa asking if I would like to go for a beer… Now, I am Irish after all and turning down a beer and a new mate would be very, very rude. So I agreed to meet and discuss the opportunity to coach at Wanderers.
 
I met Murray in a bar in the “elite” suburb of Holland Village, where most of the rich expats of Singapore live and socialise. Murray was early and I was late, which is rare of me!
 
Long story short, I gave Murray my rugby resume, my ideas, my tee’s and cee’s and he felt that I would be good for the club. The values of the Wanderers aligned to what I want to contribute and implement as a coach and seeing Murray’s eyes light up when speaking about the club so passionately made me want to get involved even moreso.
 
I remember the conversation really well; I was drinking Coke Zero (I know, plastic Paddy) and Muzza was on the Guinness! I was trying my best to contain my excitement about getting involved in the club, but I would say Muzza knew that he had me hook, line and sinker given that I turned up to meet him to chat rugby. He didn’t even have to buy me dinner!
 
Covid 19 had a big impact on everyone worldwide and lockdown happened at a time when I had just agreed and signed a contract with the Wanderers club. Rugby (sport in general) took a back seat and we literally had nothing to get excited about.
 
The leadership at the club amongst the playing group is in abundance of strong leaders and especially in one man called Rupert, whom we are sadly losing to the UK in the near future. He rallied around and created events to keep everyone together. Rupert will be a big miss for the club, he has been extremely helpful to me in the last few months with recruitment, keeping the team engaged and organising training sessions at Fort Canning (obviously sticking to Covid Guidelines, don’t be silly!). If any business owners in Singapore are reading this - Hire him and bring him back to SG! You will not regret it!
 
My vision for the Wanderers Rugby Club is based around the people; the men, the women, the family’s, everyone. Being together and sticking together. It is so important for humans and men especially to be involved in community and I believe the community we have at Wanderers is very strong. We have had men talk openly about their mental health, men approach myself and the other coaches wanting help and advice with their personal lives, men leaving the club and everyone rallying around to ensure they have an appropriate leaving “ceremony”. It is really something quite special.
 
This is exactly what I want in this club. The feeling that we are all supported by each other with no judgement or shame around our mental health, our personal lives, being a tight knit family. That is the absolute ticket right there. In a sport that is very ego driven, these men are leaving their egos at home, being present and vulnerable amongst each other. The All Black’s have a “no dickhead policy” and it seems the Wanderers have also had this instilled in their culture for a very long time.
 
I have every confidence that when (if?) we get to play rugby in 2021, we are going to be a very strong group of men, wanting to go to war with each other and for each other. Recently a great friend of mine, Ale Oneto; A mental skills coach who has worked with the All Blacks, Crusaders and many more sports organisations and athletes, hosted a Zoom presentation on how important, especially now in a pandemic, our mental skill set is. The buy-in from the whole club to attend this presentation was amazing, we had almost 50 men attend to improve… Get better as a bloke and then in the future, as a rugby player.
 
I have some great assistant coaches in Fender, Robbo, Tommy, De Wet and some invaluable leaders amongst the playing group. I am learning a lot about the game and the club from these men and excited to implement what we have learnt together into how Wanderers play rugby. This group of men have shown me “How we do things around here” and this will underpin how we recruit and develop men at Wanderers for the future to come.
 
Whilst it has all been a very positive experience so far, I have personally struggled with showing and creating value to justify my position as a Head Coach. I have watched all the footage, made notes and given feedback to players, created some education documents for the players on how we want to play etc… But it is very difficult to create buy-in from a group of people that you haven’t met. I have met about 10 of the players that play across 4 different grades. It is also extremely difficult to plan a season when you don’t know if and when it is going to start. 2020 and 2021 has been a huge learning experience.
 
I have used my time wisely and invested into mentoring from a World Cup winning rugby coach, a mental skills coach and a coach from Super Rugby; all of whom are helping me develop a deeper understanding of the game.
 
I am sure I speak for all the players, coaches, supporters of rugby when I say this - We need rugby back and we need it back soon. We need to be around our friends, our family, our team, our club. Our communities.
 
So Covid 19, if you’re reading… Please do one and let the boys play!