By Greg Stutchbury
TOKYO (Reuters) – Identifying talent, having the courage to select players with growth potential and showing a willingness to change were key components of a successful rugby coach, former All Blacks loose forward Murray Mexted has said.
Mexted, who played 72 matches for the All Blacks from 1979-85, set up the International Rugby Academy New Zealand in 2002 to help develop coaches and players.
He told Reuters in an interview that 2011 World Cup winning coach Graham Henry had stressed the importance of selection.
“Graham Henry recently said that 60% of being a good coach is selection,” Mexted told Reuters in Tokyo. “Selection is really important, but I’d call it identification.
“Identification of skills in relation to each position then being able to see ‘X-factor’ in those candidates and … you need to have courage to see growth and to select growth.”
Mexted highlighted George Bridge (24), Sevu Reece (22), Tom Curry (21) and Sam Underhill (23) as examples of how their national team coaches Steve Hansen and Eddie Jones were able to identify young talent and mould it to suit the game they wanted to play.
Wingers Bridge and Reece only became All Blacks starters against Australia in August and have less than 10 caps each.
England loose forwards Curry and Underhill, both of whom made their debuts on the 2017 tour of Argentina, each have less than 20 but have helped their side reach Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final against South Africa.
Mexted also said the top coaches were keen to broaden their experience and find ways of improving communication with players.
“You’ll normally find the best coaches are the ones who have a wide range of attributes,” he added.
“Empathy with players and understanding and feeling what they are feeling and to communicate with them is important.
“You also need to be open minded and to want to grow and change … (former All Blacks assistant coach) Wayne Smith is an example of that.
“He wanted to grow his awareness of the game. At one stage he was an attack coach, then he became a defence coach and crossed boundaries, so you have to be prepared to do that.”
Despite the advances in sports science and the evolution of rugby, he said, at its essence it was still a relatively simple game — get hold of the ball, control it and create opportunities to exploit space.
The big problem was getting all 15 players on a team to work together to do exactly that, he said with a grin. And while coaches did not need to be an ‘outside-the-box thinker’ to be successful they did need to be adaptable.
“Rugby is a big challenge. You have got 15 players and you have to get them wanting to work together to get the outcome you want,” he said.
“You don’t need to be a radical thinker, there are other things that come first.
“If you want to develop as a coach, then the more you do the better you get. You don’t get worse, you get better. But the higher the level you go, you do need something else.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)