Craig Steel – First Team Manager
I’d like to start by going back to that fairly disappointing season when we were relegated and I’d like you to take me through the road that has brought us to where we are now.
Well, you’re certainly right about that, it was jolly disappointing and I think the realisation from within the coaching group was that we were resigned to the fact that the league table does not lie. We got what we deserved that year, which was …… very little.
We sat down and had a root and branch review of what our identity was, I guess, as a playing collective. Being honest, we were boring, really boring to watch, predictable, relatively easy to defend against and actually not anything like the vision that Arnie wants to set for this rugby club, whether that be the First Team or the under sixes, the women, the Typhoons, everybody. We all want to be playing the type of rugby that people want to come and watch and we drifted away from that for whatever reason.
So the idea was ‘let’s play with a smile on our faces’ and I think the addition of Byron has helped enormously with that. When I watch them coach together, I think he’s set Arnie free again and that’s good isn’t it? Arnie is a big character, a big personality and I think he wants his rugby teams to play in the way he is – big, bold, full of life and energy. Byron’s given us a ‘footprint’, a ‘template’, a playing pattern that enables us to do that. It is really ‘night and day’ in terms of what we have seen in the last couple of seasons here at Lightfoot Green and, not just in terms of personnel but what we are going to see this year.
You know, strangely enough, relegation creates exciting times. I think that Gareth and Arnie have pulled a really good squad together and it’s good to see some of our returning players in there too.
Yes, I have talked to three of the returnees who all said they had benefitted and matured during their time away which is a very good thing but they all were also quite excited by the prospect of what they were being involved in.
Was that a plan that was set down or did it evolve through the appointment of people like Byron and Jamie and Lucy?
Some of that will have been planned but when Byron became available we moved swiftly. The support from Bill Bailey, Chairman of Rugby, to bring Byron through the door was immense and it was swift and decisive. When you have the Chairman of Rugby and the Director of Rugby on the same page things can happen and Byron’s addition was planned, absolutely.
I think that this idea that he’s brought more excitement to the players is a bit more organic. When you watch him coach, he loves rugby. He clearly enjoys his rugby. He’s a terrific player in the Premiership and at international level. I think that that immediately gives him a voice that people will listen to and the players hold him in high regard because he is still a player albeit not at this level but he gets his messages across, you can’t fail to be enthused by him.
We’ve had one or two guest appearances by players from Sale who have all been positive in and around the group so when you add all that together and you have your Head Coach saying, ‘I just want us to play rugby, I want to entertain and, above all else, play with a smile on your face’, I think that appeals to people especially when you’ve missed rugby for eighteen months.
This is a side that any supporter who has played the game before, believe me, would want to play in and I hope that we can translate that onto the pitch for the people that are watching.
Chatting with various long-standing members of the club I get the impression that the squad has performed well in the pre-season games and will be a match for any team we will face this season.
For me, one of the most impressive things over the summer and now approaching our first league fixture, is that the players have no idea what that starting fifteen will be and this is the first time for the long time I have been involved in the backroom staff that people don’t know who is going to be on the starting sheet and I think that keeps players honest.
That fits in with what the players have been saying. That there is so much competition for places and with the squad as big as it is, the skill set is so much wider, there is competition for places and so there is the incentive to do well in the position that you want to be playing in.
That was within this idea of rebuilding the First Team for the second time in four years. It’s important that this club vies for success and stays away from the mire of relegation so we have rebuilt the squad and I think that that job has been very well done. When you add that to Gareth’s opinion that we need a stronger Second Team to underpin what we’re trying to achieve at First Team level then, yes, it does create competition. Also, when you bring back players with the quality of Harry Moulding, Sam Gale and Alex Taylorson, then inevitably you do strengthen your squad.
And the nice thing about that is we all knew what they were capable of and having been away and come back they’ve gained from that experience and can better translate it onto the field.
We hope that they bring a level of consistency with them. That’s what maturity brings, the ability to perform at ‘eight to ten’ out of ten week in, week out instead of ‘six’ one week, ‘eight’ the next and so on. It’s the ‘eights’ that win you leagues.
What do you think lies in store?
Well, the RFU have said that the top two clubs in the league at the end of the season will be in the pole position seats for the restructure but actually that doesn’t compute with anybody. If you play any sport competitively you aim to be the best version of yourself that you can be and that puts a smile on your face which is the way we want to play rugby.
I hope to be chatting with the staff and players throughout the season but I want to finish this series of articles by thanking Craig for enabling me to have access to the staff and players during this very busy build up period to the start of ‘live’ rugby here at Lightfoot Green. Enjoy the season folks!