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03rd Oct 2013

Zero Rucks Given: Jerry Flannery talks forward coaches and that ‘Up The Banner’ Arsenal picture

Fla tells us how important a forwards coach is these days and explains away Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski's love of Clare hurling.

Jerry Flannery

Fla tells us how important a forwards coach is these days and explains away Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski’s love of Clare hurling.

Jonno Gibbes upcoming departure from Leinster is being reported as a major blow to the province and I can see why. I’ve seen how the role of a forwards coach has evolved past having just the technical skills. It also needs to marry that with an understanding of the culture of a club and combining both for maximum impact on the field.

As a hooker, the set piece is paramount to your game so you need someone who understands the technical stuff. I’ve been lucky with the lads I’ve worked with. In Munster we had Brian Hickey, who came from the amateur game and then went pro after years in the club game in Munster. He was constantly learning and evolving with us. Brian spent years trying to break me mentally but I was just too strong for him and he would be the first to admit that. Fair play to him.

With the national side Niall O’Donovan specialized in the breakdown of the opposition set piece play and what might work best for us that week, making our jobs easier. The more technique work a forwards coach can give you the better. The old-school guy shouting at you to work harder is no use. We all want to work harder but you need guys who can teach you to work smarter.

Lads like Mike Crohn, the All Blacks scrum coach, who did a few sessions with us at Munster came in and in conjunction with Paul McCarthy, the former Munster scrum coach, it helped to instill a sound technical foundation into a lot of the younger lads at scrum time. I think its testament to their work to see the young props in Munster coming through now, particularly the likes of David Kilcoyne, Steven Archer, James “The Penguin” Cronin and John Ryan. Cronin has been particularly impressive this season and I’m sure Rob Penney will be delighted with the depth he adds at loose head.

Jonno Gibbs 11/4/2012

Forward thinker Jonno Gibbes

Gibbes will be missed at Leinster but a really good forward coach imparts his knowledge to the players. I think someone like Leo Cullen will have soaked up enough technical knowledge from his coaches, as well as having an in-depth understanding of what makes the Leinster pack tick, to make an excellent forwards coach. He may not be ready to step in straight from playing just yet, but he could be the man in a few years, just like Anthony Foley at Munster.

It’s tough going straight in, especially with lads you played with, and you’re learning on the job. You have to do lots of work outside to stay ahead of the players. I know Anthony did that and travelled to other clubs and countries to see how they worked and you love that as a player as the coach will come back with innovative ideas that will ultimately make you a better player.

Gibbes is a Kiwi and southern hemisphere coaches have brought a lot to Irish rugby. When Irish rugby went pro, we didn’t have many pro sportspeople here. Lots of players who played in the amateur era transitioned into the professional era as coaches without ever having worked under a professional coach themselves. One of my old Munster coaches, Tony McGahan, explained to me the advantage they had in Australia where there were lots of professional coaches from Rugby League and AFL that were constantly working on breaking down on the field movement patterns so as to better coach them, using in-depth video analysis and utilising the science behind coaching and sports performance.

So when rugby went pro there, they had those coaches, albeit in different codes but nonetheless professional, to copy and learn from. We didn’t have that initially. Now, after the likes of Laurie Fisher, Tony McGahan and Jim Williams coming here and working in Irish rugby, we should have a generation of Irish coaches coming through who have picked up the skills, the work ethic, the attention to detail, and, very importantly for Irish rugby, they understand the culture of the game here too.


Tony McGahan explains why southern hemisphere coaches had a head start on us

Speaking of culture, Johnny Sexton talking about how vocal he is on the pitch and how that works was interesting. The fly half on any team has to be vocal and boss people around when he needs to be. Young players have to have the confidence and be empowered by the coaches to control the team. You may be 20 years of age but if you are playing fly half you have to able to tell a 34-year-old prop to get the fuck out of the way.

On the Lions Johnny may have started out slightly cautious with how he spoke to some lads but he has a winning standard and that shouldn’t be diluted and thankfully it wasn’t either. It easier to tell a guy he’s in the wrong place if you know him for years but players are clever enough, or they should be clever enough, to know that it is only an on-field matter.

For successful teams, everyone has to talk. I was a talker but I focused on reinforcing the basic roles we needed to do as part of our game plan. These are the things that really win games. It also helped me to keep my focus on the play occurring in front of me and stopped my mind from wandering during games. They are small, boring details but if you can focus on getting them right rather than looking for a big play to win you the game, then that’s often the difference between winning and losing.

The basics are what all the best teams do well. I remember during the horror show that was the 2007 World Cup myself and Eoin Reddan were watching New Zealand. Eoin is a sharp enough analyst and he said to me ‘look at what they are doing. Nothing fancy. Just simple running lines, carrying the ball straight, effective clearouts, getting fast ball and outworking the opposition’. That’s how you win games.

If someone gets tired and doesn’t do a basic role, then a gap is created, it gets exploited, that’s often where matches are lost. Talking to your team-mates, chatting and reminding them keeps everyone focused and it can also intimidate the opposition when they see 15 lads being vocal and working together.

Pod and Santi

Clare men to the core…

Finally, just to clear it up, I wasn’t responsible for the ‘Up The Banner’ picture of Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla that appeared online last Saturday. The facts are that the two lads are massive hurling fans and I’m fairly sure Santi has a mobile home in Kilkee whilst Podolski is often seen surfing in Lahinch. They’re practically Clare men.