Gordon Rugby & Michael Cheika Help Tahs Reconnect With the Grassroots Game
by Paul Cook –
“Growing up, the Waratahs were always our state representative team and we were proud to support them that way. We want to return to that relationship and the Shute Shield, with community rugby, is important to us…I think that’s part of the responsibility we have to get people involved and filter our belief on the game right the way down.”
That quote from new NSW Waratahs head coach Michael Cheika will be music to the ears of club rugby players, coaches and supporters alike, a percentage of whom have felt slightly disenfranchised from their state team in recent years. Cheika was addressing a gathering of club, suburban and junior rugby coaches at Knox College last week as part of a ‘Coach the Coach’ session*, an event organised by the Gordon Rugby club as a part of their Community Coaching Initiative, which aims to improve all levels of coaching within the Gordon Community.
Forty-seven coaches attended from Gordon’s Grade, Colts and Junior Representative teams as well as from village clubs, schools (Barker/Knox/Shore/St Pius), and the Central Coast. With first hand access to the knowledge and experience of Cheika and his fellow Waratahs coaching team of Daryl Gibson and Alan Gaffney, the session was designed to realign the Waratahs with their supply line through a series of drills and play options, underpinned by an explanation of the rebooted Waratah mantra for 2013.
Using 30 Gordon 1st Graders/Colts and Central Coast players, Cheika and his brains trust imparted their knowledge on patterns, contact, restarts, line outs and kicking options. It was very well received. Gordon 1st Grade head coach John Briggs – a veteran of Sydney club rugby – was one of those in attendance and he came away with a very positive take on the whole experience.
“I thought it was rather enlightening. Often, there’s a perception with Super football that it’s in another stratosphere, that it’s complex and high-tech but Michael’s coaching couldn’t have been more opposite than that. He’s about getting all the basics absolutely right and utilising every moment you have on the training paddock – he drags everything back to come forward. If you get the basics 100% right, then you can start adding.”
Briggs knows his club rugby and he admits that he hasn’t been immune to the frustrations of the fractured relationship that had developed between clubs and their state side.
“The common thing that comes back to me when I talk to people was that there was no real link between club football and the Waratahs. There was a link but not a strong link and with that goes the support group and clearly, if you get the club scene onside and they feel a bit loved, they’re going to give a bit back and I think that was one of the things Cheika was saying. In the past, it has been about them expecting us to come along and cheer them on and believe in what they’re doing but it’s got to be both ways.”
He welcomes the fresh approach.
“Let’s face it, the next step down from Waratah football is club football and it’s a small step in terms of there being no competition in between so it’s what they’re relying on. We’ve got to foster that link. He’s already sharing some knowledge and some ideas and knowledge is gold, whether it’s a club coach sharing it with some of the junior coaches or a Super Rugby coach sharing it with the club coaches. I think the message that clearly came across was that there is going to be a stronger bond between the club scene and the Waratahs and that we need to be as one. I think it’s going to be more a case of big brother looking after little brother from now on.”
With 18 of Sydney’s aspiring suburban and junior rugby coaches also being treated to a behind the scenes tour of the training facilities at Waratahs HQ last week and the opportunities afforded to 10 non-contracted players from the Shute Shield ranks for this week’s trial match against the Melbourne Rebels in Hobart, the signs are that a new dawn is underway in the state’s rugby system with Michael Cheika driving the change.
We can all hope that this leads to greater success and sustainability at all levels of the game in New South Wales.
* This is the first of a number of ‘Coach the Coach’ sessions that Gordon will be running. A further Coach Education session will take place in late February/early March with coaches/staff of the Australian Rugby High Performance Unit/Academy. All coaches at any level within the Gordon Rugby Community are invited to attend this upcoming session. Please contact Jason Grier, Gordon Club Coach/Rugby Manager via firstname.lastname@example.org