In­ten­sity of Euro fi­nal moved up to new level

Gloucestershire Echo - - SPORT -

IF any­body needed re­mind­ing of how far rugby union has de­vel­oped since pro­fes­sion­al­ism, look no fur­ther than the Le­in­ster v Sara­cens clash at St. James Park last week­end.

The con­test was ab­sorb­ing, phys­i­cally im­mense and full of skill in spite of the close at­ten­tion of de­fend­ers from both sides.

This was pretty close to in­ter­na­tional lev­els of in­ten­sity and Sara­cens dis­played a re­mark­able nose for just when to go for the kill.

They were out of it till the last mo­ments of the first half but left the Ir­ish prov­ince won­der­ing where their late score had come from.

It owed much to col­lec­tive nous and feel­ing when the time was right for the strike.

Af­ter that they never re­ally looked back and were well clear by the end.

Am­a­teur play­ers could never pro­duce this level of in­ten­sity as it would be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for them all to gain the nec­es­sary fit­ness lev­els at the same time.

The whole squad has to be in tune with the aims and there can be no weak links in the chain in fit­ness lev­els.

Mis­takes will oc­cur, but the very best pro­fes­sional sides do their best to en­sure that these er­rors are judge­ment calls and not be­cause of low fit­ness lev­els.

It was not al­ways thus and the cur­rent quest for the next Li­ons coach seems to be point­ing to War­ren Gat­land.

One news­pa­per pub­lished a list of Li­ons coaches since 1966, but they made a fun­da­men­tal er­ror in nam­ing John Robins of Wales as the man in charge.

I knew John well as he coached us at Lough­bor­ough, but the game in the north­ern hemi­sphere hated the word ‘coach,’ even though out coun­ter­parts south of the equa­tor had em­braced the con­cept heartily and early.

They had no qualms about hav­ing coaches to get the best out of rugby teams, which may help to ex­plain why we al­ways seemed to be try­ing to catch up and never quite suc­ceed­ing. The 1966 Li­ons went off to Aus­tralia and New Zealand un­der rather odd cir­cum­stances.

The tour cap­tain was Colonel

Michael Camp­bell-lamer­ton, a Scot­tish se­cond-row for­ward who would prob­a­bly never had made se­lec­tion for the Test side if he had not been cap­tain.

It is dis­tinctly pos­si­ble that he may not have been se­lected in the tour­ing squad at all if not cap­tain, but that is all his­tory now and his ex­pe­ri­ence of cap­taincy was pretty limited with two stints at the helm for Scotland.

The rugby es­tab­lish­ment gen­uinely saw coach­ing as a dis­mal step to­wards pro­fes­sion­al­ism and John Robins was packed off as as­sis­tant man­ager of the tour.

He had no coach­ing re­mit, no job de­scrip­tion and was pretty much in the dark as to what

the rest of the tour man­age­ment ex­pected him to do.

He knew that he had a track­suited po­si­tion with a hands-on sit­u­a­tion with the play­ers – but not every­body thought the same.

There was still an old guard who wanted rug­ger’s val­ues to be an in­te­gral part of the way the Li­ons op­er­ated.

The team would come to­gether on match days and play off the cuff in what was later seen as a Bar­bar­ians ap­proach.

It worked in Aus­tralia but the am­a­teur ap­proach hit the buf­fers in New Zealand and may­hem oc­curred.

John Robins was in a no-win sit­u­a­tion and things could only get worse, of course, when he snapped an Achilles ten­don in the early part of the tour.

By the time he had re­cov­ered enough to take his coach­ing du­ties back, the sys­tem had put the cap­tain in an ex­tremely dom­i­nant po­si­tion and Robins never added what he was so ca­pa­ble of bring­ing to the tour.

His in­jury did not help, but the British at­ti­tudes to coach­ing put him in the fir­ing line from day one.

It could never hap­pen now as the coach­ing team at all pro­fes­sional lev­els can cope with an in­jury like this.

Some­body else might have been flown out, but an in­jured as­sis­tant man­ager was noth­ing to lose any sleep over.

And even if the idea had crossed any­body’s mind, a re­place­ment as­sis­tant man­ager would have to ar­range time off work (usu­ally un­paid) and be ready for a trip last­ing months.

So in the next pub quiz that has the ques­tion ask­ing for the name of first Li­ons coach, the an­swer is tech­ni­cally not John Robins. He was a mere as­sis­tant man­ager...

Sara­cens cel­e­brate af­ter their vic­tory dur­ing the Cham­pi­ons Cup fi­nal against Le­in­ster

»For­mer Glouces­ter and Eng­land A coach Keith Richard­son

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