13 December 2005
Speaking exclusively to England Rugby Supporters Club members at their Christmas party last night, England National Academy Coaches John Wells and Jon Callard shared their tips on England stars in the making and recounted infamous tales involving England's retired World Cup legends.
The evening, which was hosted by Ian Stafford from the Mail on Sunday, was attended by 131 members of England Rugby's official fan club who were treated to festive food and games with signed England and Lions gear up for grabs and the chance to quiz two of England's top coaches.
Jon Callard, former England full back and Leeds Tykes head coach, said it was the opportunity to spend time developing young talent that enticed him to join the RFU's ranks as a National Academy coach. "In a premiership environment you never have enough time to devote to developing the youngsters because every week you've got a game to win. Here we have the opportunity to shape England's future by working with England players. It takes a bit of getting used to having weekends free though and I'm running out of excuses for not going shopping with the wife or mowing the lawn!"
For John Wells, who's spent the past 23 years coaching Leicester Tigers, winning four premiership titles and twice lifting the European trophy, the Academy provided a welcome new challenge, "For over two decades all I've done is prepare a team for a match. One of the things I'm most enjoying is the opportunity to talk to people from other clubs and find out what they are doing.
"I started playing rugby because I enjoyed the company of the guys I played with. But most of those guys have moved on now and this was a good opportunity to move into a different environment and work with younger players. Rather than just prepare for matches, here the emphasis is about developing young players and helping them prepare mentally and physically for the future."
With the Junior and Senior National Academies often described as conveyor belt for young England talent, Ian Stafford asked the guys whether the future looked bright for England. With the Six Nations starting in February and the RWC only 20 months away he wanted to know how we can ensure that promising youngsters fulfil their potential when they step up to the next level.
"I think we're in good shape," said Callard. "In the past we've perhaps tended to push players into the limelight too early. From our point of view we want to encourage youngsters to stay within their age groups so they get the maximum time to develop. It's easier for backs because the step up to senior level isn't so physical but ideally we're looking to keep a side together and build them up that way, that's what our representative teams are about."
"Special players don't come along very often and England lost a lot after the World Cup win so Andy Robinson has had to start from scratch. We've got to remember that players take time to achieve their potential and having lost the likes of Backy and Dallaglio, Robbo will know that it's his back row that he needs to build up. In terms of front five he's well endowed," said Wells.
"With the likes of Tom Rees the London Wasps' flanker, Magnus Lund from Sale and 19 year old Leeds number 8 Jordan Crane, I've got a feeling that these guys are going to be there or thereabouts come RWC 2007.
Wells went on, "Robbo has a pack of forwards capable of beating anyone else and the way I see it if you sort out your forwards and your defence - which he has - you can build from there."
"Our job is produce more Tom Varndells" said Callard, "and there are other young guys around the circuit now who I know will make a big impact if they are given the right platform. Fly half Danny Care has already made an impact with Leeds and England U19s and David Doherty is another young Leeds player who is hugely talented. In Danny Cipriani from Wasps we've got another very promising 19 year old no 10 who is starting to show real promise in a key decision making position.
"Obviously a significant part of our role is working on key skills but the biggest thing is mentality. People sometimes confuse this with abrasiveness but mental toughness is about being able to maintain control and focus even under the most intense pressure.
"Then there is game understanding, this learning can be accelerated but only at the top levels of competition like the premiership and representative Six Nations. Every individual matures at a different speed and it's our job to see that they draw on the experienced players around them and get good advice from experienced heads like us."
The evening's events were rounded off with a raffle, which raised over �360 for the PRA Benevolent fund, and a pub quiz. Hemel Hempstead's Tim Proctor took home the top raffle prize, a signed Lions rugby ball, while team The Unhopefuls surprised themselves by winning the quiz with a score of 29 out of 36 and bagging a signed England rugby shirt.
For more information or to join ERSC, check out www.rfu.com/ersc or call 0870 2401642. Adult and junior memberships are available in a box priced at �28 (junior) or �38 (adult). Now in its third year, England Rugby's official fan club provides adult members with the latest news, exclusive access to international match tickets through the ERSC ticket ballot and unique opportunities to meet the England team. Junior membership brings the exclusive opportunity to run out with the England team at Twickenham as their mascot as well as many other benefits. To date members have spent over �2.5million on Twickenham match tickets. Over 14,000 members watched England during the 2005 Investec Challenge series.