- Specialist throwing coach tests out Cameron Neild and Jack Walker
- “Wherever there is a space, we take the chance to practice” – Simon Hardy
A rain-soaked car park in Cape Town may not seem the most obvious place to groom the future stars of England’s front row, but Simon Hardy’s track record of readying hookers for the Test arena is absolutely unmistakable.
Since his first session with Richard Cockerill back in 1998, the 56 year-old has influenced a long, distinguished list of players from the position of specialist throwing coach.
Relentlessly preaching dedication and the old-school adage that practice makes perfect, his nous has been a subtle but potent ingredient in British rugby’s biggest successes over that period – both 2003 World Cup-winner Steve Thompson and victorious Lion Tom Youngs have Hardy’s helping hand to thank for honing a key skill in their armoury.
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Now, though, the newer generation – in the shape of England Under 18 pair Cameron Neild and Jack Walker – are receiving the benefit of this unparalleled expertise during their three-match tour of South Africa.
“This is a great opportunity,” Hardy explains. “These are young lads, and for many of them, this is their first tour.
“The car park system is something we have been doing for ages. Steve Thompson learned how to throw in a car park and he became the most capped hooker England has ever had.
“Wherever there is a space, we take the chance to practice – it’s all about repetition. Throwing for a hooker is the absolute bread and butter.
“Everyone talks about this massive transition Tom Youngs has had. There’s no doubt in my mind that he gained his Lions Test starting place because of his throwing being better than [Richard Hibbard and Rory Best].
“My mantra is that a player should never get dropped for their throwing. [Neild and Walker] are going on exactly the same path as a whole host of great England hookers have done in the past.”
Explaining his approach to the unique nature of lineout throwing and the hooker’s role in general, Hardy’s boundless enthusiasm is obvious.
“Hookers to me are about all-round play. They have to be tough enough to take some knocks and scrummage – Steve Thompson’s favourite phrase was ‘I’m in a car crash every week and you still expect me to throw.’
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“It is physically hard for them – they’ve got to tackle and carry like back-rowers. But then they have to calm down, step over the white line and produce a throw in isolation with an outcome that they can’t necessarily control.
“We work purely on whether they can hit the target, then the rest of the team will do their job well [to secure the lineout].”
Another hallmark of Hardy’s methods is the positive feedback that flows from his protégés. Sale Sharks youngster Neild, who started last Friday’s agonising 19-14 defeat to South Africa Schoolboys, is in little doubt as to the improvements his game has already seen.
“It's great working with Simon,” he admits. “His one-to-one sessions really help to get your technique spot on, even down to the little things like your hand position on the ball. It really does help.”