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Back You are here: Home Sports Rugby Kwa Zulu Natal Hugh-Reece Edwards- Westville Boys Head Coach
Monday, 17 August 2009 09:34

Hugh-Reece Edwards- Westville Boys Head Coach

They have always been one of the stronger school rugby sides in KwaZulu-Natal but increasingly Westville Boys has become a force in schools rugby in the province and they are a side who has gradually established themselves at the very top in KZN.  Arguably they are the number 2 side at the moment and on their day are the equal of any side out there.

To show how serious they are about their rugby the school has taken on as its coach Hugh Reece-Edwards, once a Springbok fullback and one of the great legends of Sharks rugby where he played 165 times for Natal. Coaching is his passion and he has been involved in coaching some top sides, including the Springboks and the Sharks. Now in his 5th season as Westville's Head Coach he shares some interesting insight into the sport at this level with SASSM.

Hugh Reece-Edwards is the first to admit that coaching a schoolboy side was a far cry from being involved in the elite Sharks setup or the Springboks but he realizes that the experience has made him into a better coach in some ways. After leaving the Sharks and then coaching the Wildebeests, Hugh Reece-Edwards was approached to go to Westville Boys and it was a position he jumped at. "I think that I really wanted to go back to the grassroots of coaching after the Sharks setup. I was approached to go to Westville and I thought it would be a great thing to go to see what it is like at that level. To be honest I didn't think that I would be able to do it, I didn't think to be able to deal with schoolboys was where I was or would be," admits Reece-Edwards.

"Coaching is my passion"

Success was relatively immediate for the side as gradually they started to grow in confidence and the structures were soon in place to provide a rugby culture at the school that would provide great depth.  Obviously having a professional coach who has played the game at the highest level has its advantages and the results bear testimony to that. "Honestly I don't know if it is important to have a professional coach, but it is important to have a coach who is up to scratch with the game. Whether it be the masters who go out on coaching courses and keep up to date that is really the important thing. The moment you don't stay in the game or follow or keep involved regarding the rule changes for example, you fall out of line with the game and the team will suffer," adds Reece-Edwards.

Hugh Reece-Edwards is really a throwback to the past when professional players turned into coaches and plowed back decades of experience into the game which can only serve to benefit those who fall under their care. As he says, "coaching is my passion so it is easy for me to keep up to date and to ensure that once a player leaves school the correct skills have been laid in place and they are in a better position to make a career of the sport."

Some would argue that the more outside coaching that a school uses the less control the teachers have on what is going on the sports field and maybe there are disadvantages of this. For Hugh Reece-Edwards he sees the pros and cons of being a coach who is not from the traditional educational background. Although he has someone who is involved in the school assisting him,  not being a teacher also allows him not to get too close to the players and to maintain a professional approach. Naturally and some may say quite bizarrely  this experience that he has gained as a player and coach does not go further than Westville and he is not involved in the selection process of the KZN Craven Week sides. "No they won't allow me because I am not a teacher that is now the new thing. I think teachers are really holding onto those positions and they can keep it really. Outside coaches are not allowed to get involved in the selection process," reveals Reece-Edwards. Why the experience of former players to identify future talent is not used seems strange although some will argue that we are dealing with schoolboys who primarily fall under the supervision of the teachers and educational institutions.

" A big game will always be a big game at whatever level you are playing"

Still Hugh Reece-Edwards is nothing if not a dedicated and professional coach who gives of his best in order to get Westville competing at a level that asks questions of every team they come against.  Having played in pressure cooker situations in his playing days he is all too aware of how important the matches are for the boys and that experience is vital in developing a team who can overcome obstacles.  "It helps a lot to have the experience that I have enjoyed because you can relate to players exactly how they feel. A big game will always be a big game at whatever level! So when it is a big game for them I can relate to how it was when I had some big games in my playing days. I still remember some of the schoolboy games I played in and the tension and the nerves are there even at a lower level," says Reece-Edwards.

So what type of coaching style would an ex-Springbok fullback and former assistant Springbok coach have when coaching a schoolboy team? The job must come with its own frustrations and challenges and yet Reece-Edwards is pragmatic about the way he goes about business and interacts with his players. "Yes I believe that whatever you are doing with the players that you have to be open and honest with them. So if they are being dropped or being moved from one position to the other then you have to sit down with them and discuss it with and tell them . If you are going to do that then you are not going to have any comebacks or negatives. They may not like you because you have done it but that is understandable. But I think as much as possible if you are open and honest with the schoolboys it is the best way to coach. They are very perceptive if you are going to try and tell them a story or two they will see through it."

This solid down to earth approach to coaching Westville has born good fruitage in recent years and in 2009 they achieved one of their best seasons in its history and in the past 5 years they are hovering around the 80% mark for wins. It is really a remarkable record considering that Westville is a relatively young school and yet they are able to beat sides with far grander traditions. "This year we had no real stars in the side, only one player in Kayde Fisher played in the KZN Craven Week side and still we only lost one game in KZN to Glenwood and we lost a game at the KES festival so we had a great season really with a side that I never really thought would achieve this," admits Head Coach Reece-Edwards.

Perhaps the main difference between having a professional coach taking charge of the First Team and the traditional "old Geography teacher" running out to coach the boys is how to motivate the players and there must be some merit in having someone who is slightly detached from the classroom making the call on who plays and in what position. Also there is the much debated issue of the school rankings system that has all but fallen away which the two types of coaches differ about. As Hugh Reece-Edwards says, "the rankings are a contentious issue no matter what because you don't play against everyone. But I must say that from a player's point of view and in terms of a motivation you like to see who you are up against and I think the players like it. I know that a lot of headmasters don't like it as it is used quite heavily in terms of attracting boys to various schools. But at the end of the day marketing of sport and especially rugby is the biggest marketing tool that a school has."

"Schoolboy rugby is a better brand of rugby compared to club rugby, where the better crowds are the better the rugby is"

It might seem strange to some that a legend of the game would find coaching a schoolboy side to be so satisfying and one would imagine that many clubs would be knocking down the door to try obtain the services of Hugh Reece-Edwards. In fact this has already happened and yet for 5 seasons he has been happy to ply his trade at Westville. The obvious question, why? In answer to that question Hugh Reece-Edwards reveals a worrying situation that now exists at the club level of the game.

"Put it this way I have been asked to get back and involved in club rugby but honestly I would prefer to stay with schoolboy rugby purely because it is more professional and better organized.  There are always crowds at the game, there is quality equipment, and you don't have to phone players to beg them to get to practice and it's a lot more enjoyable from that point of view. I just think it is a better brand of rugby that is being produced at the schools, when you have crowds willing to come and watch that tells you the story as to which is the better rugby between clubs and schools.

It is a huge worry really to see the state of club rugby and the current support it has. I have had an argument with the guys down at the Sharks academy where you have an academy of 300 strong and it is really those players that are being provided to clubs these days. The old age club player who came out of the school and played at a club for 10 years that guy is gone and you don't have that sort of person anymore.  So now the academy provides clubs with players and for the local players there is no place for them and they leave.

If look at every bursary that is given out to clubs or academies or universities every year there is probably well over 1000, but if you look at the number of new names that hit the SA rugby Super 14 franchises there are probably only about 5. So really your hit ratio of making it is 0.005%! Which is absolutely scary?"

 

"I am very surprised that Rugby League hasn't hit this country in a big way yet"

So what is a player to do who is talented but doesn't get selected to join an academy or doesn't get noticed?  There are some options that players look at such as trying to get a contract with a smaller union or going to play overseas and yet to make a career out of the sport the facts show that very few go one to make it. "I am just very surprised that Rugby League hasn't sort of hit this country in a big way. I know it was here at once stage but I think there are a lot of our players that might not be gifted ball players but are certainly strong enough to play a game like rugby league so that may still become part of our set up and offer a career for some players. Obviously there is the avenue of playing overseas but that is short lived they aren't the big money makers. The guys who generally make it overseas are the guys who have already made it here," says Reece-Edwards.

It is true to say that the job as coach of any school team XV does bring with it their own unique challenges. One of the hard things is that every year your side changes and a coach doesn't have the same side year in and year out. But at the same time that can also be an enjoyable challenge in trying to groom or create a player in a very short time realizing that he might be gone at the end of the year and you will have to start all over again.  Also when you are involved in a winning culture and having the success that Westville is enjoying at present there is the constant pressure of living up to the supporters' expectations.

Hugh Reece-Edwards is true to his word and spending time with him you realize that here is the genuine article that has a driving passion for rugby and how to coach it correctly at any stage.  He finishes with these words. "You know a coach at whatever level needs to be able to motivate their players in the best way to get the best results out of them. At the school level one of the things you need to try and eradicate is self doubt. When I look at the Glenwood game, there is no doubt in my mind that we could have won that game, certainly not on that day but I think we went into that match with too few guys actually believing that we could win it. But once the game was finished and we discussed it they all turned around and agreed that really had we played like we have in the past we could have won it.  It's the whole story, everything is 90% mental and 10% physical and this certainly is true in schoolboy rugby where that sort of mental side is key.

But rugby is changing in all departments as it becomes more professional. Look at the size of the schoolboy players these days! You have just got to watch what is happening at the top level and see the way those players are getting bigger. A few years ago a player like Ruan Pienaar would have been a lock, now he is one of the smaller players on the field. So these are the role models and the hero's and the schoolboys follow suit. If you look at the size of some of these players and Craven Week you can see the guys who have really put in the hard work and they get identified early and have the inside track to make it further in the sport. Some of the physical attributes of these schoolboys is absolutely phenomenal.

So how do you make it in this sport? Well it comes down to a player's mental attitude he shows to the game. I think of the guys who have made it out of Westville, they have never been the big show off guys but have been the guys who have really knuckled down and really worked hard to keep their position and make sure that they can be the best in their position, mentally and physically and they understand that the game is always going to be bigger than the player. You get some of the guys who are really flashy and show off at school and once they leave they are now the small fish and they suddenly get caught out quite quickly.

I have had a great time at Westville Boys coaching the boys and there are good memories. It is not really about beating other schools, but it has been great to see good players or not even good players,  just players from the beginning of the season and see how they mature at the end of the season. Also those players who you have identified as being a talent going onto the Western Province setup and the Sharks setup is great to be a part of. Of course when you see a guy making KZN Schools it is great and we all are happy. Sometimes it is just very rewarding to see some little brat train hard and become a young man in a short space of time."

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