Beasties think combinations and fitness key to success in shortened Shute Shield season

Coaching’s a tough job at the best of times but it gets even tougher coaching a contact sport in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Eastern Suburbs coach Pauli Taumoepeau was happy to admit his first session back at Woollahra Oval wasn’t one his finest. 

“It was a bit of a disaster to be honest, probably the worst session I’ve coached,” he laughed. 

“Our COVID protocol is being run by a nurse from St Vincent’s who is part of the club and he said the main thing to try to avoid was accidental contact and I think I took that a little overboard. 

“We had 20 guys at our first session, 10 in each half and there was no atmosphere. I had all the drills running for three minutes too long and guys were just going through the motions, it wasn’t great.

“But we quickly learnt from that and found ways to keep the guys engaged, while still following all the protocols and the last few sessions have been a lot better.”

With group training limited to 10 people, nine players and a coach, Taumoepeau said he’s had little choice but to focus on the basics, something he didn’t think was completely negative. 

“You can’t even run five on five drills with nine guys, so it’s tough. The main focus for us has been core skill. You can’t do any breakdown work, you can’t get a full XV together so we’ve been working on skill and our defensive systems.

“We’ve got a new defence coach this year so it will be good to get some extra time with him. It’s actually given us a chance to really slow things down because the guys know we are limited in what we can do. It’s been great to have the time to work on the fundamentals of footy again.”

With so much still up in the air ahead of the eventual start of the Shute Shield season, Taumoepeau said it was tough to know what to expect when round one kicks off. 

“We’re presuming we’re going to play everyone once so it’s going to be a sprint. You won’t have time to dip your toes in the water, you’ve got to be ready to go by round one and you’ll need to take that into consideration when you are picking teams and combinations. 

“You’ve got to start the season well because there is less room for error and because of that I image the pressure and stress will come earlier this season compared to usual.”

Taumoepeau asked his players to “stay ready during lockdown so they didn’t have to get ready,” and said he was happy with the shape of his squad at this stage of preseason. 

“I think we’ve done what we need to do but it’s impossible to know about the others clubs. Who has been working hard, or what will each sides roster look like? We’ve lost two new guys from New Zealand who have returned home but other than that we’re looking pretty good. 

“I’ve heard Randwick are going to get an influx of their Aussie Sevens boys back. I’m not sure how many but I’ve heard that those boys are probably going to be able to play most of the season so that will be a big boost for them. 

Besides the Wicks, Taumoepeau said the teams with more established rosters will also likely thrive in the shortened season. 

“Eastwood will be strong, they’ve got a fairly solid squad plus they’ve signed young flyhalf Tane Edmund, who is a real talent. 

“Warringah will also be good. Like Eastwood, they’ve just got the nucleus of a really good footy team and they’ve shown that by playing in the last two grand finals. Uni will also be right up there. 

“I’m confident we’ll be there with them though. We’ve got a squad good enough to win the competition and I think each year we’re getting closer to doing it. 

“Our set piece was a big focus last year and we’ll continue to work on that, then there are a few new parts of our game where I think we will improve as well.”