The Recollections of a Quins Coach by Andy Edwards

Andy Edwards, 1st XV Quins Coach in the 1990s has provided us with this witty and descriptive account of his experience as a coach.

Grammar School, Youth and College rugby was followed by Llanelli RFC for two injury-laden seasons and the London Welsh RFC for 5 seasons before returning home to Carmarthen Athletic where Youth rugby over ten years previous had initiated me into the sozzled choral world of Saturday nights in the Clubhouse and the togetherness and brotherhood of rugby as a sport.

Highlights playing-wise was being part of Carmarthen Schools R.U., the Dewar Shield and the many ‘Old Boys’ fixtures that sprung up from time to time when old friends met to play, dreaming that they were young again and the ‘befores’ and ‘afters’ were alcohol-fuelled and joyously happy, win or lose.

Following Ian Stone’s decision to transfer from the Athletic, I joined the Quins as a player. Warm welcomed by the gentlemen that were the committee of the time: Calvert Jones, Hywel Griffiths and Gwilym Beynon. Calvert with his sport shop in town, Hywel with his raw milk at half time and Gwilym always with his kind words of encouragement. Whilst a player at the Quins, I was appointed as the first W.R.U. Development Officer for Carmarthenshire.

That same committee with a few additions interviewed me in the salubrious Park Hotel. There was a coaching vacancy to work with the resident, David Jacob.

‘If we don’t have promotion within two seasons, you can sack me if you want!’ I said.

‘I’ll hold you to that!’ Committee man Alan Jones replied to my brave, foolish statement,

I am told that I coached the club during the seasons from 1994/95 to 1996/97. I don’t think we got promotion! I remember arguing with various powers to be that we need to develop young players and that the Club would have to be patient. Patience was substituted for the need of success. I understood and stood down.

In retrospect, I ask myself did I coach rugby? Compared to the micro-coaching practices of today I was never really coached as a player and I hardly ever coached as a coach in the modern day terminology. Systems and tactics were put in place but I question whether there was true coaching involved.

Training was sometimes simple and repetitive, but good teams are made from players who are able to do basics well and are fit. Thought was given to drills and they were changed from week to week. Line outs, scrummaging effectively can take hours to perfect and maintain.

 I remember how positive all the coaches that I worked with were, encouraging self belief on the pitch. We did practice a lot of moves such as M1, M2, scrum half going blind supported by the  back row. Practicing 4 v 3, 3 v 2. And the famous ‘Cothi Bridge’ move where the outside half (normally Simon Rodgers) would miss both centres and pass to the full back out wide, sometimes the long dive pass would reach the open side winger.

 As coaches you, assessed, realised and understood individual and team strengths and weaknesses. You tried your best to take advantage of them, and minimise the impact of any minor weaknesses. You also looked at opposition strengths and weaknesses. Strong scrummaging opposition would mean exhaustion on the scrummage machine during that week. Advice was given on when to play a counter-attacking game and when perhaps not too. Weather conditions were always assessed and would influence preparation. Persistent rain might wrongly or rightly mean a game of bombs from the outside half (normally Simon Rodgers). Players were encouraged to think for themselves.

Tuesday nights’ agenda was a warm up, a game of touch, a jog around Abergwili pitches, a stretch on the corners, all led by the 1st XV captain. A load of lung-busting fitness came next. Drills followed sometimes totally irrelevant to the team, just an activity that filled twenty minutes, pad work, tackle bag drills, related to a skill that you felt the team had performed poorly on the previous Saturday,

‘Let’s do it right,’ was the main coaching point.

There were invariably enough United XV players to ensure a game resulted where forwards and backs bashed away at each other, living on their natural skills to avoid contact or paradoxically, to take on contact. The ‘F Troop’: 2nd XV, were a very successful team at the time and entertained the crowd on the pitch and entertained themselves off. Training was warfare at times. It prepared the boys well for the game on Saturday. At times I felt more a trainer than a coach. An hour and fifteen was my limit. If you couldn’t do what you needed to in that time then it would only be wasted on exhausted minds and bodies.

Thursday was team selection, coaches and captains in attendance. A team announcement after the game of touch, was not always taken well by individuals who walked off in diva huffs of disappointment telling us where to stick our club and that they were never playing here again! I would say though that the majority of players who didn’t make it into the 1st XV were happy to play in the Troop. There was always a code of conduct between the selection committee, a strong picket line that if broken would never be forgiven and consequentially cast out like a coal mining scab. A closed shop: there could be no, ‘Oh I picked you it was the others that didn’t want you!’

Backs went off to do their moves for twenty minutes and forwards line out and scrum. 1st XV backs and forwards would mix for unopposed and we would be victorious over the non-existent ghost-team that were still able to put players under pressure and cause knock ons and forward passes!

‘One good one to finish!’ was the shout.

The general team strategy was to win first phase ball, send the centres up the middle, create a target for forwards to bollock over and then half backs to play what was in front of them with the main objective to play the ball wide even if it meant the outside half calling the ‘Cothi Bridge’ move. It was all about attitude and passion, fitness levels and a belief that you were better than your opposite number and all executed with sometimes bitter banter and a spoonful of fun.

Saturday was where you were lambasted by supporters for doing a warm up on the pitch. ‘They’ll be knackered before they start.. ridiculous mun!’

Back into the changing room, you performed the tactical speech. Succinct, not too much information, give them 2-3 simple things to think about. Say it with a passion for the game and emotion for the club. The captain would say his words then the rhythm of the studs would take over as the team built up a one to ten shout that left everybody ready for battle!

The Saturday partisan crowd perhaps sometimes never fully appreciated how much effort went into preparing the teams. Saturday was where you could hear the critics moan that the wrong tactics were being employed,

‘Kick it down the corners mun!’

 ‘Play it in their half!’ ‘

 ‘They don’t know how to play rugby these days. In my day…….’

 ‘If I was captain….’

 Win, lose or draw – we never drew, it was back to The Park or later to The Milford for a good time. Packed in like sardines but filled with smiles and witty wisecracks and wordplay to wind up whoever was being too full of themselves.

As coaches we threw ourselves in at the deep end. There was no easy opposition at the time: Bonymaen, Tondu, Vardre, Rumney, Cardiff, Rhymney Gwent, Narberth, Tumble, Whitland and whilst we might not have got it right every time, we definitely threw the kitchen sink at trying to win every game.

1995-96, Bridgend come up in the draw for the Swalec Cup. Second team hooker, Kiley Jones is selected at outside half for the televised big match. He storms and barrel bursts through a shocked Bridgend defence in a 25-28 defeat. Rob Howley, in the end, is the class difference between the teams on a cold December day in Carmarthen Park. It wasn’t quite the ‘day of the underdog.’

 The Western Mail Monday headline: ‘Bridgend win, but cant put out Dragone’s fire’

 “Another five minutes and we would have lost it,’ a humble Bridgend secretary is quoted.

 The season is relatively successful, big scores of 50-60 points and hard fought wins against top teams. However hiccups along the road cause the balloon to be shattered: a loss against lowly St Peters 28-0 puts a ‘spanner in the spokes.’ World number one referee, Derrick Bevan presides over the game and insists on players clearing the pitch of smashed glass and dog poo before the kick off can go ahead. We stay in the top two/three of the league throughout only to be pipped by Rumney on the last Saturday.

Coaching or playing?

As a coach you feel as if physically you take part in every phase of the game it’s just with the added adrenaline-fuelled gut wobble that leaves you drained and exhausted: a roller coaster that I didn’t know existed as a player, not until I watched that first game as a coach – Caerphilly in the Park, I think! As a player you can always try to sort things out on the field: more effort in a scrum, carry harder, hit a ruck with meaning or hurt the opposition in a tackle. Coaching can be lonely, no physical outlet except in anxiety and pressure to say the right thing at half time and in those days with a lack of scientific evidence there was a need to have a feel of what was happening in front of you.

I do remember ‘F Troop’ winning in Pontyates, a Llanelli and District Cup Final against Bynea. In those days the 2nd VX were an important cog in the Club as a whole, sadly no more. I loved it when a Quins Under 20’s team won a W.R.U. 7’s tournament in Aberaeron. As a club it was all about developing youngsters towards the 1st XV. The highlight being a win over Ystradgynlais in the West Wales Tovali Cup with the man of the match showboating in front of the Stradey Park stand as he scored the winning try! (Simon Rodgers)

Whether it be too many knocks on the head or just a poor memory but I don’t recall what league systems we were in. I vaguely remember West Wales and the Heineken.

Playing and coaching at the Quins virtually took over a large part of my life. Raising money for a weights room, organising the Junior Section, writing the programme, it all took time.

What I do recollect mostly are the characters that I was fortunate to coach and play with: Dai Jakes, Mike James, Drags, the Twins, Sven, Bubba, the Jacob brothers, the Wall, Puppy, Pritch, Beili Bach, Gary Wha and Eagles to name but a few.

And so many stories have been collected to bore youngsters with,

‘Did I ever tell you? I used to coach the Quins? Back in my day, what we use to do was….’

Andy Edwards