Rugby Revealed: A Lesson in Rugby
“The minute you think you know it all, you’re done.”
Harlequins Director of Rugby Conor O’Shea said that to me and he is right.
As a player and coach you never stop learning. I played rugby professionally and now I coach in the U.S. and every day I learn more about the game, about my players, and about myself. My recent experience of writing my first coaching book, Rugby Revealed, gave me the best rugby education I could have asked for. Here is how it happened and the lessons I learned.
Devising the Strategy
Rugby Revealed is a joint project with my writing partner Eilidh Donaldson. We set out to write a book for the modern game which explained the position specific attributes and broke down the key elements of the sport. We wanted to create a book for players and coaches at all levels which could act as both an introduction to the game and as a way to develop and improve existing skills.
Our book wouldn’t be about drills and theory, from the start we set out to create a practical and personal guide which featured top players teaching young players based on their own experience and elite coaches sharing their proven methods with other coaches.
With Rugby Revealed what we have done is effectively capture the knowledge of the first generation of professionals in the sport and share it with those who follow.
Assembling the Team
Our ambitions were measured to start with, interviews with a few players, maybe a coach or two, to give the insider’s perspective. It quickly became apparent that the project really appealed to current players and coaches who were looking to help explain the game to the next generation. In the end we had over 100 of the top names in the sport on board.
I should stress it was always about quality not quantity for us. We wanted the best players and coaches and we got nearly everyone we set out to talk to. We looked to get a balance across positions, ages, countries, clubs, level of experience and styles of play and I think we achieved that. A mixture of luck and persistence assembled the greatest squad ever and a rugby IQ that is off the charts.
During the process of writing the book I was talking with USA Rugby Director of Performance, Alex Magleby and some coaches of other sports. Coach ‘Mags’ made a really good point that has stuck with us both – “no other sport could write a book which features so many top players and coaches in one publication”. For me this is the essence of rugby.
No budget could have bought our contributors list, and not one of the 100+ names you see listed in the book ever asked for money to talk to us. Whether it’s the fact that rugby is still in its relative infancy as a professional sport or it is down to the culture of the game, we firmly believe only rugby could have freely shared the knowledge of a generation of players to help inspire those who follow.
The Rugby Revealed Squad:
Fourteen countries and 32 clubs are represented by the group of contributors.
Cian Healy (Ireland & Leinster)
Dan Cole (England & Leicester Tigers)
Jack McGrath (Ireland & Leinster)
Marcos Ayerza (Argentina & Leicester Tigers)
Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy & Toulon)
Mike Ross (Ireland & Leinster)
Owen Franks (New Zealand & Crusaders)
Ben Kayser (France & Clermont Auvergne)
Bismarck du Plessis (Springboks & Sharks)
Corey Flynn (New Zealand & Toulouse)
Keven Mealamu (New Zealand & Blues)
Schalk Brits (Springboks & Saracens)
Devin Toner (Ireland & Leinster)
Eben Etzebeth (Springboks & Stormers)
Geoff Parling (England & Leicester Tigers)
George Robson (England & Harlequins)
Jamie Cudmore (Canada & Clermont Auvergne)
Jim Hamilton (Scotland & Saracens)
Joe Launchbury (England & Wasps)
Marco Bortolami (Italy & Zebre)
Jacques Burger (Namibia & Saracens)
Kelly Brown (Scotland & Saracens)
Sam Warburton (Wales & Cardiff Blues)
Scott Lavalla (USA & Stade Français)
Sean O’Brien (Ireland & Leinster)
Shane Jennings (Ireland & Leinster)
Steffon Armitage (England & Toulon)
Tom Wood (England & Northampton Saints)
David Denton (Scotland & Edinburgh)
Duane Vermeulen (Springboks & Stormers)
Juan Leguizamon (Argentina & Lyon)
Jerome Kaino (New Zealand & Blues)
Todd Clever (USA & OMBAC)
Tyler Ardron (Canada & Ospreys)
Aaron Smith (New Zealand & Highlanders)
Ben Youngs (England & Leicester Tigers)
Mike Blair (Scotland & Newcastle Falcons)
Rory Kockott (France & Castres)
Ruan Pienaar (Springboks & Ulster)
Andy Goode (England & Wasps)
Beauden Barrett(New Zealand & Hurricanes)
Felipe Contepomi (Argentina)
George Ford (England & Bath)
Handre Pollard (Springboks & The Bulls)
Ian Madigan (Ireland & Leinster)
Johnny Sexton (Ireland & Leinster)
Ruaridh Jackson (Scotland & Wasps)
Conrad Smith (New Zealand & Hurricanes)
Gordon D’Arcy (Ireland & Leinster)
Jamie Roberts (Wales & Racing Metro)
Manu Tuilagi (England & Leicester Tigers)
Nemani Nadolo (Fiji & Crusaders)
Rene Ranger (New Zealand & Montpellier)
Blaine Scully (USA & Leicester Tigers)
Brett Thompson (USA & Edinburgh)
George North (Wales & Northampton Saints)
Horacio Agulla (Argentina & Bath)
Marland Yarde (England & Harlequins)
Tommy Bowe (Ireland & Ulster)
Andrea Masi (Italy & Wasps)
Chris Wyles (USA & Saracens)
Rob Kearney (Ireland & Leinster)
Willie Le Roux (Springboks & The Cheetahs)
Leigh Halfpenny (Wales & Toulon)
Aaron Mauger (Leicester Tigers)
Alex King (Northampton Saints)
Alex Magleby (USA & Dartmouth College)
Ben Herring (Forwards & Defence Coach)
Billy Millard (Cardiff Blues Elite Performance)
Brendan Venter (Sharks)
Conor O’Shea (Harlequins Director of Rugby)
Daryl Gibson (NSW Waratahs)
Dave Hewett (Crusaders)
Eddie Jones (Japan Head Coach)
Gary Gold (Sharks Director of Rugby)
Geordan Murphy (Leicester Tigers)
Graham Rowntree (England Forwards Coach)
Gregor Townsend (Glasgow Warriors Head Coach)
Les Kiss (Ireland Assistant Coach)
Mark McCall (Saracens Head Coach)
Mike Catt (England Attacking Skills Coach)
Mike Cron (New Zealand Forwards Coach)
Mike Ford (Bath Director of Rugby)
Mike Tolkin (USA Head Coach)
Paul Burke (Backs Coach)
Rob Hoadley (Defence Coach)
Rob Howley (Wales Back Coach)
Scott Lawrence (Life University)
Sir John Kirwan (Blues Head Coach)
Stuart Lancaster (England Head Coach)
Dr Dave Alred (Elite Performance Coach)
Greg Hechter (Stormers’ Kicking Coach)
Isa Nacewa (Blues)
John Dams (Harlequins)
Ollie Richardson (Queensland Reds)
Stephan Du Toit (Stormers)
Mick Byrne (All Blacks Skills Coach)
Nick White (Blues Set Piece Coach)
Simon Hardy (RFU Specialist Coach)
My Rugby Lessons
We were fortunate to interview all of our contributors and got an insight into how to play and coach the different positional skills. Some common themes emerged on how to reach the top level.
• You can always learn and improve. No player or coach considered themselves the finished article. Even those at the very top of the game were always open to advice from their peers or those in other sports. They were always striving for those few precious percent that could make a difference.
• There is no alternative to hard work. Again and again players who perform at the very highest level spoke of others who were more talented than them but who had not put in the work and had failed to reach their potential. This drive to be the best and do the work to get there was present in all the players we spoke to.
• Focus, focus, focus on core skills. The top players all referenced their constant drive to keep these skills sharp and coaches gave their insights on how to keep the focus on these fundamental areas of the game. All said they were the key building blocks of a successful player.
• Performance under pressure makes the good players great. Whether its confidence in their abilities, their skill for reading the game, or their focused mindset, making it matter when it counts is what many highlighted was the one key aspect that set the few above the rest.
• Love the game. What came across loud and clear was their passion for rugby, the effect playing it has had on their lives and the bonds they have built. For coaches it is about creating that experience for your players, and for players it is about embracing it. It’s a game that gives so much to those who play it and many of those interviewed felt lucky to be part of this special sport.
The Final Result
Eilidh and I are so proud of the finished product and reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. As rugby continues to grow around the world we hope this book plays its part in inspiring the next generation of players and act as a blueprint which delivers new and improved players and coaches for the game.
Rugby is the fastest growing team sport in America and I can see just how much it has grown in the last few years alone. The qualities and attributes required for success that the featured players and coaches outlined I see in the players I work with in the U.S. – they want to improve, they want to compete, they want to win.
What this book offers is a chance to learn from rugby’s best. Just like The Rugby Site, many of whose contributors feature in Rugby Revealed, the book is a resource that can help players build their knowledge of the game and reach their potential.
The overriding message of those featured in the book is summed up by a quote from Argentina’s Horacio Agulla.
“We play rugby because we love the sport, not because we are going to make a lot of money. We are here to play the game the best we can and improve. Enjoy your rugby, don’t forget it’s a game and work hard to be the best you can.”