Father-son relationships are always a little bit staunch, well they can be. I think it’s changing in today’s world, but it certainly wasn’t staunch in our house the night I got the call from Razor (Scott Robertson) to tell me I’d landed the Crusaders Assistant Forwards Coach role.
My dad was just so proud. Mum and my whole family were too, but dad was particularly proud. High fives and handshakes quickly turned into hugs, we cranked up the Crusaders music and drank some champagne! We had a great night, it was special, real special.
It actually makes me emotional just thinking about it. I think it was so special because, only a few years earlier I’d taken a pretty massive punt, chucked my job in and had a crack at something that I was truly passionate about. Coaching rugby.
In the past, getting to coach a side like the Crusaders you’d normally had to of played for them or at least played Super Rugby, and I hadn’t. So it was a big and very rare step for Razor, and the Board, to appoint someone from outside of the previous mould. Thankfully their courage has paid off with us winning two titles, so I guess that’s a great lesson that there are great rewards available for being brave.
Only 2 years earlier I was working full time selling mining equipment and spending a lot of time on the West Coast. Outside of that, all of my spare time was spent as a specialist scrum coach at club and academy level and also a handful of hours per week with the Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup side. It was then when Razor bailed me up and asked if I was interested in stepping up into the Canterbury Men’s Assistant Coach role. I thought, this is awesome, my dream had come true!
The down side to it was that it was only a 4-month contract. So, I went to my boss and asked if I could take unpaid leave. Having already had some time away with other commitments during the year, he understandably said no.Initially I found that really hard. Torn between this wonderful opportunity with something that I’m truly passionate about and having the security of a full-time job and money to provide for my family. After all, I have a wife, two kids, and a mortgage to think about.‘Was this a selfish decision for me, or a family decision, or was it a little bit of both if it worked?’
After a fair few sleepless nights, and talking to some people close to me the conversations quickly turned to ‘can we do it, can we actually afford to live?’
In the end it was Dad who got me across the line, he said ‘you’re young enough to get another job somewhere if it doesn’t work out, you’ve just got to back yourself. Don’t die wondering was his words.’ So, I did it and resigned. But it was pretty scary when my first pay packet came in on a 4-month contract.
I reckon that’s why dad was just so proud that night. During those times when the outcome wasn’t clear for everybody to see, we backed ourselves and made it work.
We had 4 great years with Canterbury, a World Cup with the New Zealand Under 20s and now two titles with the Crusaders and still as driven as ever to get better.
I truly value the relationship I have with Ray, he challenges me every day and just like the players, he wants you to bring your own personality out. We’ve got a mutual respect and more importantly trust with each other, which is critical. And we have fun along the way.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have someone like Mike Cron as a mentor. He’s one of the best humans you’ll ever meet, and one of the best coaches in the world in my opinion. He’s been huge for me and my development as a coach, he’s always got time, a great sharer, and the best at what he does. I always value the chats I have with Crono. As a former cop, with a lifetime of experiences away from rugby, he’s also a really good example of the fact that you don’t have to have played at that level to be a great coach, which helped give me the confidence in my application for the Assistant Coach role at the Crusaders.
Many people thought that because Razor and I had coached Canterbury and New Zealand Under 20s together that I would naturally follow him to the Crusaders as his assistant, but it didn’t happen as easily as that.
Razor told me it was his responsibility to find the best man for the job, so he was going to go to market and I’d have to throw my hat in the ring just like everybody else. That also made the appointment special.
So, when I went for the interview it was Crono’s example that I was able to draw on in my presentation. One thing I said was ‘I haven’t worn the jersey, so that would give me an ability to challenge and look at things in a different way. I have a point of difference that I can offer the boys outside of the preview and review of the game. I have life skills and a few other bits and pieces there.’
They had guys like Owen Franks and Wyatt Crockett, Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock with a hundred plus Super Rugby Caps as well as guys like Codie Taylor and Luke Romano, so they all know what they’re doing, but maybe I could bring something fresh to the group. A different way of looking at things.
Yes, the technical stuff is super important, but so too is all the other things away from rugby.
I think it’s also been important to back being yourself and being honest and upfront. If you’re not sure of something don’t make out you do know, if you don’t.
Being honest and comfortable and confident to back my point of difference was key to landing that role I think.
Aside from my time at Sydenham, I also got my chance to cut my teeth in coaching Heartland Rugby with Westcoast.
It was an unreal experience and something I’ll never take for granted. We had guys turning up to training covered in coal, farmers walking in late, but to be honest it wasn’t really late, because we could all appreciate that they’d made the effort to be there, so being late didn’t matter.
Coaching those amateur sides has helped me and given me an appreciation that now, as a professional coach, I can fall back. We had farmers from Haast down in South Westland, that had to travel four or five hours for training and then either go home or try and work something so they could stay the night. Often, they’d have to get a shift milker in to run their farm while they were away.
They showed a real commitment and dedication to playing for the province. They played purely for the pride of doing so.
What I learned there was, if you create an environment that players think ‘actually I want to be there’, they turn up.
It comes back to, ‘if somethings important you’ll make time, if it’s not, you’ll make an excuse.’
I can remember having a plan for a scrum coaching session for our forwards, and only two players turned up. One front rower and one lock, so my whole plan had to change. We ended up just focusing on the prop and the lock together on one sled and an I-pad. We actually had a great session, and they probably got the best learning out of it compared to if the whole forward pack was there. So that sort of experience taught me how to adapt and be ready, things change in front of you.The same with being put under pressure in professional rugby, you can have a plan, but things change pretty fast, so I guess having those experiences early in my life have helped me there too.
Moving forward and what’s ahead? I’m just extremely driven with a mindset of trying to be better every day and continue to grow as a coach. The continued support I get from my family in particular Cath, Olly & Emma is the key ingredient for this to happen.