- England forward coach visits Old Leamingtonians Ladies as they #winwig
- "I really enjoy it; I’ll coach anyone who will listen to me" – Rowntree
“It’s amazing; straight off the back of the Lions tour he’s come down to our club Old Leams and he’s coaching the ladies. It’s fantastic.”
Graham Rowntree took time out from his packed schedule at the elite end of English rugby to emphasise the importance of safe and effective scrummaging at grassroots level and prove that the motto emblazoned on the inner sleeve of all England Test shirts – England Connected – can mean something tangible.
Old Leamingtonians Ladies, who play in RFUW National Challenge Midlands One, won the chance for the England and British and Irish Lions forwards coach to lead a session at their Crofts training pitches after head coach Gemma Lewis responded to a #winwig competition run by @official_RFU on Twitter.
Returning to the scene of an ultimately successful Midlands Under 19 trial – “look at me, I got roughed up every game,” he jokes – Rowntree outlined why he was prepared to give up his free time on a sodden evening in Warwickshire.
Photo: Getty Images
“There’s a duty on us as an England elite group to make sure we stay connected with this [grassroots] group and make sure what they’re coaching is relevant, correct and safe for what we want at the top,” he said at the outset of two hour-long sessions.
“You need to keep things simple at this level of the game – mind you, we need to keep it simple at top end of the game too – and give lots of encouragement. You’ve got to keep it fun, you’ve keep them coming back and wanting to train on a night like this.
“I really enjoy it; I’ll coach anyone who will listen to me."
After a series of handling, off-loading and breakdown drills to get the players warmed up, Rowntree moved on to a thorough explanation of the new scrum engagement laws, which is captured in an RFUtv feature.
The former Leicester Tigers man took the players through the process of building up the numbers and intensity in scrummaging, starting with two-on-one and three-on-two contests where one side was allowed dominate the push after engaging.
Photo: Getty Images
This put the emphasis on organisation, body position and timing, with front row duo Hannah and Claire commenting “we’ve picked up new skills in building up to practising scrummaging” and “it’s all about positioning and technique before you go in and when you hit and reset.”
As an advocate of the RFU’s Scrum Factory programme, which has seen 4,432 players and coaches learn about the importance of dedicated scrum training in the 2012/2013 alone, that is music to Rowntree’s cauliflower ears.
Reviewing what a scrum needs to be successful at the end of the session, he beamed: “They’ve got a lot of technical things to get right in the engagement in terms of being able to hook, where they’re putting their props and what they’re doing with their body shape because they haven’t got a lot of power to get themselves out of troublesome moments.
“What really pleased me was how stable it was. I’m not sure how many of the new scrum amendments they’ve been doing, but they picked it up quickly. And they comply – the big thing in the referee world is compliance, not pushing too early and not putting the ball in crooked.”
And given sport is about winning at every level, has the Rowntree session translated in success on the pitch?
After a gritty 10-7 win away at Bridgnorth in the season opener and a 43-7 thrashing of Doncaster at home, Old Leamingtonians Ladies are sitting pretty at the top of their league – built on a dominant scrum no doubt.