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George Ford’s advice for England’s new attack coach: Keep it simple, please

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Exclusive interview: Fly-half says he is looking forward to working with Simon Amor at Six Nations but does not want a revolution in style

Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 9:31 am

Updated Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 9:43 am
George Ford is one of three England fly-halves selected for the Six Nations (James Robinson/Land Rover)

Eddie Jones has yet to reveal his hand at fly-half for England’s Six Nations opener in France this Sunday but the coach’s cards are the same as the ones he dealt himself at the World Cup three months ago – a choice between George Ford and Owen Farrell to start at No 10, unless the Wasps youngster Jacob Umaga is about to receive a very unlikely promotion.

Where England are doing things differently to their rollercoaster run as runners-up to South Africa in Japan is in their line-up of coaches. Matt Proudfoot, previously with the Springboks, is now in charge of the England forwards, with Steve Borthwick redesignated as skills coach. And the biggest change is Simon Amor as attack coach in succession to Scott Wisemantel, who left for the same role with his native Australia.

As Amor’s coaching experience has been almost entirely in Sevens, it is a highly unusual appointment, leading some to identify a connection with the 40-year-old being on the books of the Rugby Football Union already, at a time when the Union is looking to control its costs.

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Almost all the England back division including the scrum-halves Ben Youngs and Willi Heinz also carried over from the World Cup, adding to the sense of player continuity at the pre-Six Nations training camp currently in Portugal. Just before the England squad left for the Algarve, Ford told i what he was expecting from Amor, who worked with the team at a handful of pre-World Cup sessions when Wisemantel was indisposed.

Simon Amor was England’s sevens coach before joining the men’s 15-a-side team (Getty Images)

“He [Amor] has a background in sevens, which is a very attacking game,” said Ford. “It is completely different and they probably think about the game a bit differently so I am massively intrigued in some of the ideas we will be doing with Simon. He is a positive guy, constantly giving you feedback. I am sure he’s watched loads of 15s, even if he might not have coached it that much.”

According to Ford, players are never consulted about the hiring of coaches, whether it is with England or with his club Leicester, where Borthwick will become head coach later this season. But Ford loves coaches who can put across the game’s inherent simplicity – and he says Jones is “incredible” at that, and Borthwick is “the best” at explaining “what you are doing and why you are doing it”.

Ford explained: “There is a lot spoken about systems and little links and intricacy, and I get all that. But I have been in environments where you focus too much on that stuff, working towards that one special move which might not even be there anyway. So what about the bloody rest of it? Rugby is an incredibly simple game. When you get the ball, where is the space? There has to be space somewhere.”

England and South Africa scrum down during the 2019 Rugby World Cup final (Getty Images)

And is there a change rugby could make to enhance that search? Ford went along with my joke that forward passes would make life simpler, and he referred laughingly to rugby league’s uncontested scrums. But then he said, more seriously, he would like union scrums restricted to two sets.

“I am not saying stop the set-piece by any stretch of the imagination,” Ford said. “But we could see a lot more ball-in-play attacking and defending if we sorted the scrum out. Maybe have a rule that you stop the clock while the scrums are reset. Or a rule that the maximum we can reset a scrum is twice. Everyone would know you have a scrum and if it goes down you have got one more chance and then it’s ‘boom’, play on, and it’s the referee’s call whether it’s a free-kick here or a free-kick there – and you can’t re-scrum, by the way, you’ve got to tap it.

“You might see less messing around. It’s something just to say you can’t come up with your little dark arts and your tricks, slowing the game down. You know the ball is going to come out and you get to play some rugby. The forwards still get their opportunity to scrum and win penalties because they get two shots at it. But it’s just not five minutes’ worth of… nothing really. Well it is something for them. But not for us.”

George Ford is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover has been helping rugby fans discover the sport for over twenty years. Visit LandRover.co.uk

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7s World Cup

Kenya Sevens settle 12th as Series declared over

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By AYUMBA AYODI

Kenya Sevens has now settled 12th in the 2019/20 World Sevens Series after World Rugby (WR) declared the season over on Tuesday.

World Rugby have also declared New Zealand, who won the three legs in Cape Town, Hamilton and Vancouver, as the season’s champions after cancelling the remaining legs in  London, Paris, Singapore and Hong Kong due to the ongoing and dynamic global nature of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kenya are 12th in the Series with 35 points, having reached the main Cup quarter-finals twice in Cape Town and Hamilton while All Blacks lead with 115 points having claimed three victories and five podium finishes in the six rounds completed in the men’s Series.

At the same time, New Zealand women’s  team has also been declared the 2019/20 champions courtesy of being top of the standings before the pandemic interrupted the Series with five of the eight women’s rounds successfully completed.

The Black Ferns Sevens had topped the podium in four of the five rounds in the women’s Series so far with 96 points.

A statement from World Rugby indicated that the decision follows detailed and constructive dialogue with the host and participating unions. “It has been taken with the health and well-being of the rugby community and the wider public as top priority, and in line with the relevant national government and public health authority advice,” said the statement.

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In the men’s Series, the 2018 champions South Africa (104) finish in second place with Olympic and 2019 Series champions Fiji (83) coming third. There will be no relegation from the women’s or men’s Series in 2020.

World Rugby Challenger Series men’s and women’s final events will also not take place in 2020 due to the pandemic. The Challenger Series was launched by World Rugby this year to boost rugby sevens’ development across the globe, particularly in emerging nations, and this objective remains a key priority, providing a promotion pathway into the World Rugby Sevens Series.

Japan are awarded the inaugural men’s Challenger Series title as they topped the rankings after the two completed events, claiming gold and bronze in the two rounds that took place earlier in 2020 in Chile and Uruguay. Japan will join the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021 as the sixteenth core team.

There will be no promotion to the women’s Series this year as the inaugural Challenger Series event originally scheduled for March 28-29 in Stellenbosch, South Africa was not able to take place.

As a result of these amendments, seedings for the Tokyo Olympic Games will be adapted to include results from the 2021 Series to ensure they provide the most robust and accurate representation of current form when the Games commence in July 2021.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont noted that while it is very disappointing for players, fans, organisers and everyone involved to have to cancel these events due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, the health and well-being of the rugby community and wider society remains the number one priority.

“These difficult decisions have been taken following detailed consultation with our union partners and in line with advice from the various government and public health agencies around the world, given the global nature of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

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How Paul Treu’s ‘Class of 2009’ created wave of top SA coaches

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  • World Cup-winning Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick and Blitzboks head coach Neil Powell are some of the more successful Class of 2009 graduates.
  • Paul Treu created a system with a high emphasis on leadership and learning, translating into many of his former players following in his footsteps.
  • Mpho Mbiyozo recalls a fateful night in Sydney when the team was meant to go on a night out, but ended up forming the bedrock of SA Sevens team culture.

It’s not often that from a group of a seven-member sporting code comes as many as 10 coaches, some of whom have scaled the highest peaks in sport.

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But that’s what happened with Paul Treu’s incredible 2009 World Sevens Series-winning Blitzboks team and others he coached in the lead-up to that landmark triumph.

Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick, who won the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and Treu’s successor Neil Powell already rank among the most successful coaches the country has produced.

But also building names for themselves in tracksuits are Varsity Cup-winning former North West University Pukke coach Jonathan Mokuena, Southern Kings assistant coach Vuyo Zangqa and New Zealand-based Belfast Rugby Club coach Mpho Mbiyozo.

So how did Treu, who went straight into coaching the team in 2004 after captaining it between 1999 and 2003, inspire so many of his former students to become masters in their own right?

“When all those players came into the system, we always had a very high emphasis on continuously learning and leadership development,” Treu says.

“Nothing in our team happened without consulting all those players, especially the senior players like Stick, Mpho, Frankie (Horne) and Neil.

“We tried to create a self-driven system, where players took charge over their success and their own learning. But also knowing and understanding where the buck stops.

“We tried so many things and we failed so many times, but the players just kept going.

“We always had consultants that came to speak to the team about leadership and about different aspects of life, just to make them better players and better people at the end of the day.

“I wanted to give them different experiences. I could call it experiential learning. And, because they were always in control of their learning journey, that made them more in control of where they wanted to take their careers.”

‘We had to change the culture’

It’s a recipe that seems to have worked, not only to help the Springbok Sevens win their first World Series title in 2009, but to instill a lasting legacy in the Sevens team, the fruits of which Powell is still reaping today.

“We had to change the culture and try to become more successful as a Sevens team,” says Treu.

“I think they all understood their individual responsibility to make it work. It was very difficult to create those kinds of standards and that culture in the team.

“Maybe now, as coaches, they can appreciate why certain things were done back then, and maybe they are trying similar things now within their teams.

“The discipline and the accountability within the team, which was hard on the players at the time, put them in good stead later on to become coaches.

“We brought so many people into the system to stimulate the players’ thinking, from a creativity specialist to sports psychologists, to mentorship programmes.

“I had a guy that I asked to come in and do yoga and breathing techniques with the players. It was crazy back in those days. They would ask me: ‘Coach, what’s happening here?’

“I had a Russian guy who was in a Moscow circus and he did some movement with the players. Another guy, who was a master in karate, and had his own dojo, that I brought in for the guys.

“If you put all those things together, maybe that’s what planted the seed in the players. It’s incredible for Stick to win the Under-19 Currie Cup in the second year of coaching (EP Kings Under-19s) and for Jonathan to with the Varsity Cup also early in his coaching.”

‘I was very animated’

Powell, however, deserves his own credit for taking the Sevens team and turning them into a dynamic, driven and multiple championship-winning green machine.

Since taking over from Treu in 2013, Powell has led the team to two more World Series wins, the back-to-back triumphs in 2017 and 2018.

He also guided the team to the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold and 2016 Olympic bronze medals in the process.

“Neil is completely different to me from when I coached the team,” Treu assesses.

“I was very animated, but Neil is calm and he has the ability to calm the guys down, and at the same time inspire them, something he had even as a player.

“He has the ability to take something very complicated and get it across in a very simplistic way. The year when we won the World Series, there were times when he and Marius Schoeman were injured, but we needed them to remain with the team to create that calmness and to bring leadership support to the rest of the guys.

“They were fully committed to making the engine work and to make the guys feel like, ‘You know what? We can do this. It is going to be tough but it’s OK, you have our support’.”

Joining the list of those celebrated Sevens internationals turned coaches are Powell’s assistant Renfred Dazel, Sevens Women’s head coach Paul Delport, Sevens Academy manager Marius Schoeman, MJ Mentz (Pumas) and Rayno Benjamin (coaching in Japan).

Mbiyozo recalls a time, prior to the 2009 win, when the team culture was moulding into something that would later serve as the blueprint for his own coaching manual.

‘Wee hours of the morning’

It was an innocuous night in Sydney, when the team was all dressed up and ready to hit the town to have fun, but ended up in a six-hour-long team meeting that set in stone what the team wanted to achieve.

“The biggest thing, besides winning the trophy, for me, which to an extent has shaped the way I coach, was the culture we built,” he says.

“I remember we had a two-week camp in Australia, where we spent a week up in Darwin and came down to Manly for a week. One night we had made plans to go into the city in Sydney to experience the nightlife.

“Paul said to us he needed to chat to the boys quickly after dinner. We didn’t think much of it and thought we’d be out of there in 30 minutes, max. We came into the meeting all dressed up to go out.

“But we spoke about what it is that we wanted to achieve and what steps we needed to take to achieve those goals. Before we knew it, we spent six hours chatting, from probably around 7pm to the wee hours of the morning.

“We ended up not going out at all. But we were building a culture, something that will sustain the success that we are seeing with the guys that came after us.

“Every team that I coach or am involved in, the first thing I do is get the players to understand exactly where we’re going and how we are gonna get there.”

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KRU in hunt for Shujaa coach: The Standard

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Scott Curry of New Zealand (L) runs with the ball in the men’s round three match against Kenya during the Sydney Sevens rugby tournament at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney on February 2, 2020. [SAM MOOY / AFP]

Kenya Rugby Union is searching for Shujaa head coach to guide the team to the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

New Zealand’s Paul Feeney stepped down last month after helping Kenya clinch the Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens title in Johannesburg and earn qualification to the Olympic Games.
KRU has now re-advertised the position of Kenya Sevens head coach but this time, it is open to all nationals.
Earlier, KRU had announced the position directing that only Kenyans could apply, a move that saw only three local coaches apply even as many foreigners showed interest.
“The Rugby Union is now looking for a coach from any country with a minimum of three years experience as a head coach in a division one club elite squad and a minimum World Rugby Level two coaching certification in either sevens or 15s rugby,” read the KRU statement.
“The overall responsibility will be coaching the sevens squad and the management of a performance programme to ensure that the selected players are best equipped to compete and perform in the international assignments as defined by the KRU.”
KRU chairman Oduor Gangla said they will bring on board an experienced coach who will not only guide Kenya to the Olympics, but also prepare the team for the 2021 HSBC World Seven Series.
“We are still in the early process of selecting a coach. There is nothing much to reveal. The position is now open to all nationals around the world and we will make the announcement as soon as we come to an agreement,” he said.
The new coach is expected to lead Kenya in the new season, starting in October with Kenya hosting the Safari Sevens International tournament.
Gangla said KRU will resume local (Kenya Cup and Championship) and international competitions after a green light from the government through the Ministry of Health.
“We understand Safari Sevens is here with us but we have to also note that we have a serious health problem in the the form of coronavirus pandemic.”
“We will only resume play as per the directives of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Sports where we understand earlier this week Sports Cabinet Minister Amina Mohamed formed a committee to advise on the resumption of sporting activities across the country,’ Gangla said.
“The same will apply to Kenya Cup and KRU Championship leagues which are in the playoff stages.”
All applications for the Kenya Sevens head coach must be submitted not later than July 10.



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