- Andy Farrell runs defence session at Manor Park RFC in Nuneaton
- “Aim through him, don’t just tickle him, tackle him" – England Backs Coach
Much like one of his famed impact tackles, Andy Farrell nailed the tone of the evening with his first words as he addressed the huddle at Manor Park RFC from Nuneaton, who play their rugby in Midlands Three West South.
“It’s a pleasure to be here with you. Our ethos as a senior England side is to make people like you proud of what we’re trying to do.”
Delivered with utmost sincerity in his inimitable Wigan drawl, the England Backs Coach then launched into an intense training session on tackle technique and defensive principles with the wide-eyed club players, whose first team compete at level eight in the rugby pyramid.
Photo: Nuneaton News/Jim Jarvis
Farrell was at the gritty grassroots club to represent the tangible side of the “England Connected” mantra after Manor Park were selected from more than 600 entries in a #winFaz competition on the @EnglandRugby Twitter feed.
“It was fun, they’re good lads,” he said. “As I said at the start, they’re exactly what this game is all about. This game is about one family – the rugby family. We’re all from the same mould and it’s great that they’ve all come down in the numbers they have. Apparently they can’t get that many numbers down on a normal night but there were 33 of them, so it’s great to be part of.
“We’ve all been brought up in places like this and played our junior rugby at places like this. As senior players or coaches, we’ve got to be so grateful to the coaches, kit staff, the people that wash the kit, bring on the water bottles, everything, because they’ve got us where we are.”
Attracting new players and retaining existing ones, especially over the imminent summer break, is a challenge for a club like Manor Park, which has been running for 54 years on the ground they share with Griff and Coton Sports and Miners Welfare Club. That, coupled with the need to remedy a leaky defence from recent matches, made Farrell’s visit a huge boost.
Club spokesperson Bobby Bridge, the type of bloke whose infectious enthusiasm and tireless work behind-the-scenes is a crucial part of keeping the club going, explained.
Photo: Nuneaton News/Jim Jarvis
“It’s absolutely fantastic, it’s the end of our season now and we go on tour tomorrow,” he said. “We get a text from the RFU about this event and while our [midweek] turnout can be six, seven or eight, tonight we’ve got 33 – I’ve had to turn people away.
“It’s perfect timing for us because when you come to the close season that’s when people are thinking about their futures and if we can offer things like this from time-to-time it’s something to build on.
“We were 20 points to five up against the now league champions and with a scratch team we were holding in there. But the second half if was 32-20 (a 27-point turnaround) which tells you all the stories you need to know – lack of organisation, lack of fitness, lack of resources from the bench. And towards the end of the season we’ve shipped a lot of points against lesser teams, which has been the most disappointing thing.”
So Farrell set to work and, using the same drills as he uses with the senior England side, gradually built up the intensity of the session through tackle technique and then team defensive principles of correct spacing, line-speed and staying square. With an RFUtv feature on this grassroots defensive master class available next week, Farrell gave a sneak preview.
“I was trying to get them to be able to hit with their shoulders and complete the tackle and then force some pain onto the opposition,” he said with the grin of someone who has dished out a few in his time as a decorated dual-code international. “We want as much energy as possible to get that ball back. You try and teach them all the principles to get some line-speed so that they can get up in the faces of the opposition and force some turnovers. We got there eventually, I think.
“There were a few blowing at the end; I had my fingers crossed that no one was going to keel over but thankfully we got through it.”
Photo: Nigel Ellis/Manor Park RFC
Club captain Lewis Brightmore and flanker Sam Haslam were two of those getting “the Farrell treatment” and, laced with typical rugby humour, said the whole club will only get stronger on the back of his visit.
Haslam, player of the year in 2011/12, said: “It was brilliant – we had a few more numbers out than we normally did but it was good to do some new drills and hopefully it will help us for next season. Quite a few people in the team had never seen midweek training before!”
Fly half Brightmore added: “There were some people with video cameras recording it so hopefully over the summer we will remember it! No, we will take a lot from this and hopefully we won’t concede as many tries next year.
“It was nice to see the atmosphere here down at the club, everyone in their Manor Park colours and loads of people came down to watch. Hopefully we’ll get a decent coach to come in and give us the playing boost we want too. Not that this coach has been bad; we’ve offered Andy the job, but we’ll have interviews with others just to make sure!”
In the age-old rugby tradition, Manor Park set off on their end-of-season tour to Sheffield today. While Brightmore was only willing to comment that the trip will be “interesting”, one often-repeated Farrell instruction will be certainly be carried forward to his team’s defensive work next season: “Aim through him, don’t just tickle him, tackle him.”