Reflecting on the Sevens Cup Win: What Does It Tell Us About Rugby in Canada
posted April 17 2017
[ed. comments below] A - The coach makes a difference
Does anyone still believe it doesn't matter who the coach is? Look at the transformation of the men's sevens program. Last year they floundered, missed the Olympics, lost to Germany in the Olympic repechage, players went on strike and they subsequently lost their OTP funding. This year under a new coach they've been in four cup rounds in a row and won their first World Rugby series tournament. What are attributes of a winning coach based on what we've observed.
#1 Player management and keep the players happy. We know the players weren't happy under Middleton, they even had a work action which caused some embarrassment to Rugby Canada. We don't know all the details but the coach has to be able to work that middle ground between top brass who are worried about dollars and cents and the players who want to be treated fairly. Bottom line he needs to focus on the players state of mind and do what's right for them.
#2 Choose a style of play that suits Canada. We're not NZ, we're not Fiji, this is a lesson that the men's XVs coaches could learn. Look at the talent you have and select a style that will be successful. The 7s team under McGrath are playing a more direct, controlled style of rugby. No longer are they going side to side to avoid contact. They're a lot more prepared to test that small gap now and make sure they can win the ball at the breakdown. In the semi-final win over England they fell back into the old style a bit until Isaac Kaay came into the match and provided that extra level of go forward physicality. It paid off almost instantly. We don't always have the polished players who started throwing spin passes at 5 years of age, we have some big, physical units with a lot of heart. Heart and physicality, Canada has a lot of that so find those players and choose a style of play that suits them.
#3 Community involvement and see what's happening at the level below. I've had this argument with certain readers over the years, their position is "it's not the national team coach's responsibility", and I stick to "maybe not in a professional environment but if you want to be successful in Canada..." It's probably my number one measurement now of how successful a national team coach will be, 7s or XVs. Crowley and Anscombe have been disappointing, Middleton was invisible. Geraint was making moves that way but McGrath is a superstar in that regard. He's worked with local clubs and regional unions to put on Sunday events to give his development team more 7s time and also scope out the local talent while providing a teaching component so all know the standards required. The Cowichan event this Sunday is a good example, if you're in the area you should come to watch. I can't think of anything better for Canadian rugby than a tour across Canada this summer for the Maple Leaf 7s team and coach to be hosted by clubs along the way for sessions like this. B - Money isn't always the solution
Don't get me wrong, money is great and is often part of the solution but sometimes an excess of it can cover up underlying problems. Rugby Canada temporarily losing their 7s funding from OTP has made them rethink things a bit. They were doing the usual, getting more money, creating new jobs, without thinking about the processes and how they could be improved. Sometimes adversity creates opportunities. C - Canada does have the talent
Canada does have the talent to be best in the world, we may have to work harder, we may have to be smarter but it can be done. What I like about McGrath is there has been no whining about local rugby, how it isn't up to standard, inferring that he can't do the job with the raw materials he has. He gets out there and works to find the hidden gems. Can the men's XVs department be sent that memo - they seem to have missed it?