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NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum

By Robby Richmond
December 20 2017

Robby Richmond has kindly taken the time to put together his thoughts on saints coaching conundrum, it's an excellent read...

Getting it right, getting it wrong, & finding a way to get it right for everyone.

How did this happen? I mean seriously, how did we find ourselves in this position? For those with long memories you’ll probably realise this isn’t a new problem or position for Saints.

In fact, some closer analysis bares deep comparisons to the beginning of the end (relegation survival in 2005 thanks to Mark Cueto) and the end of the beginning of another end (The absolute battering we got off Clermont in the European cup quarter final of 2015).

Shipped 64 tries, an average of 20+ missed tackles, an average of 12 penalties given away per game. But one thing you can’t quantify with stats is confidence. Though as many have seen in the past, this is a side whose confidence is shot to pieces.

Anyways, we’re looking for a new DOR & apparently a new Lineout/Scrum coach too, eventually…

When someone can…


It’s quite amusing to see journalists throw names around like poop on a wall.

Imagine how some of those phone calls with Mark Darbon might go…



Darbon: Hi Warren fancy working with Dyl every day?

*Phone clicks*

Darbon: Hello? Warren?


Dean Richards?

Darbon: Hi Dean, fancy working with Nobby every day?

*Phone clicks*

Darbon: Hello? Dean?


Mike Ford?

Darbon: Hi Mike, Fancy working at Saints?


*Phone clicks*


Wayne Smith?

Well, never go back they say…

Even though he offered to help us out last season apparently. But turkeys don’t vote for xmas do they? If Wayne had returned whilst Jim was still he’d be an enormous threat to his job, a ready-made replacement. Though, that pay off is still hefty isn’t it?

What’s frightening from a supporter’s standpoint is this-

1- 18 months left on Jim’s contract, it seems as though there was no shortlist to replace him.

2- That, you would assume, means they were thinking about giving him an extension or were thinking of recruiting internally.

Of course, there could be shortlist & a load of names thrown about are just to keep us plebs from pointing out they’re not very good at their jobs. But here’s the thing. It’s not the 1st time we’ve had this problem is it? Think back to this time last year…

Word around the campfire was that had we lost to Exeter the elephant would have finally been given the old heave ho. We won, in the last minute, by a point. Somehow bought Nobby a years worth of job security. Meanwhile a fortnight later King was unceremoniously canned.

So this is where concerns about the board surface again. It was alleged that Jim offered to leave, I’ve no idea how true or not this is. But we came very close to getting Pat Lam before he decided he’d go to Bristol instead.

Then there is the WORLD WIDE SEARCH for King’s replacement…

Which saw us talk to (it is alleged) Ben Ryan, Johann Ackermann, Rory Teague, Glen Ella & Gregor Townsend…

We ended up promoting from within. Which is strange, I didn’t realise how good our Academy coaches were. *

The deal breaker on recruiting outside of our own drinking pool? Working with the elephant. Even when his duties were reduced, it seemed to make little or no difference. Gentleman Jim was basically becoming Fireman Sam, putting out fires left, right & centre.

Of course we ended up bringing back Dowson, much beloved & admired by staff, players & supporters alike. He’s a voice that a lot of the young players can learn a great deal from but if they were planning to mentor him to replace Jim? This, in of itself, is incredibly ambitious. Straight up, that’s tough to type. Like everyone, I love Phil but would he be ready to become a DOR on 2 years of coaching? Come on. I expect Dowse to become a great coach, maybe a brilliant one but asking that of him smacks of Grayse in 05. Or worse still, Grayse Jr other week.

They’d be setting him up to fail. As ever, these issues come from the boardroom. The Board should set the tone for a club. Some supporters have recently been quite dismissive as to their influence. To me, respectfully, that’s frighteningly naive.

So here’s some thoughts and comparisons between cultures & ethos, I should warn you though, I’m not going to pull any punches. Yes, I’m the most cynical person you’ll find but that’s principally because once upon a time I was the most idealistic person you’d meet. Eventually, it grinds people down. Convenient then, that is what seems to have happened at Saints over the last three years or so.


I’m going to write here about building positive work environments, team attitudes & cultures, ethos. But as examples I’m going to refer to Wayne Smith & Alan Solomons tenures at Saints & compare & contrast them with Jim, Nobby & Co.

Finding someone to enforce a new culture normally needs to have one already in place somewhere. We’ve a board that’s just changed & no one added to it brings any real rugby knowledge.  This already leaves the club at a disadvantage.

Ok, you’re probably reading this and saying;

Yeah but Bealer is on the board.

Yes, yes he is. When was the last time he spoke in public? What does he do at board meetings? Enquiring minds would love to know. At this point, until someone says other wise I’m going to say he’s checking his emails & playing Clash of Clans on his phone.

I told you I was cynical.

In the long run this is why I feel letting Jim leave is a mistake. Instead, we’re going to allow him to join Worcester, Cardiff or Wasps & take all of his knowledge with him- Principal frameworks, coaching strategies & reintroduce a winning culture elsewhere.To not offer Jim a place on the board will come back to bite us in the arse eventually. But as many have pointed out Jim’s loyalty to his lieutenant has ultimately cost him this job. However, it’s kept his core beliefs intact, his framework, and his strategies.

Building a culture doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, building trust, proving to players & staff that ‘it’s working’ is often intangible & only seen in results, performances & trophies. Sometimes you’ll be halfway through the process & it looks like failure. For us that looked like 2011, that looked like losing league semi’s & eventually a final, to the tigers, in the most spectacular dogs dinner of a way.


Hold Steady.


Wayne Smith had an authoritative, affiliative and coaching style of leadership; Slowly building what can be identified as a Championship culture which focuses on both results and relationships. From a results standpoint, Championship Cultures have a strong sense of duty & purpose. They define the specifics of what they want to achieve & instill a passionate desire to achieve it.

This means very high standards for the group & offering them with candid and frequent feedback on areas of improvement, both positive and negative. In addition to results, championship cultures place a large focus on relationships. The group is treated with respect & valued for their contributions to the team, whether major or minor.

Teammates take pride in their roles because they know their value to the team & feel a sense of appreciation for playing with one another. The coaches want to form solid connections within the group to help the team feel respected and begin to compete at a higher level.

Since they feel valued and appreciated for as people, the group buys into the goals for the benefit of the entire team. Smith created a vision for the team that kept the squad focused on the goal over a ten-month season & formed bonds and feelings of belonging to the organisation. Utilising footage from the HBO/BBC television show Band of Brothers.

That’s right, the Saintsmen.

This instigated an ethos and culture around the club that quickly turned results and performances around, unifying the team behind one common goal. This approach was effective when the stress of losing a run of games pulled the group tighter as we focused on working hard for each other on all the small elements that didn’t require talent. This created a large energy spike in games, which created more attacking opportunities and a resilience when defending.

Inheriting a squad with mixed abilities, he had to identify strengths and weaknesses and then up-skill squad players and push international players to produce a high level of performance in training to drive standards up across the board.His coaching leadership approach allowed him to suggest different techniques to individuals to help them build lasting personal strengths that made the team more successful.

Having arrived at FG from Super Rugby meant Smith & his staff were faced with something of a culture shock and quickly pinpointed a need to modify methods of coaching & communication. With no relegation in Super Rugby it allowed a heavy focus on performance without having to worry about results. Conversely, the opposite is the case in the Aviva Premiership where there is rarely a dead rubber and even fewer weekends without a game.

Demanding a sharp upturn in standards from individuals helped to focus the players on specific areas of weakness in their game as well improving elements of the game like defense that required good communication, good concentration and a good tactical understanding from everyone on the field whilst performing at a high intensity.


“A common mistake among those who work in sport is spending a disproportional amount of time on X’s and O’s as compared to time spent learning about people.”

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University & Olympic USA basketball coach


Over the course of his career Smith had cultivated an eagle-eyed ability to identify the minute flaws and areas of development in most players but also had a wide-ranging skill set in order to aid player improvement. In doing this it eliminated a culture of blame between the players but also meant that the constant highlighting of errors would often mentally drain individuals and began to generate a mind-set of personal self-doubt rather than as part of a championship culture.

This validates group members with positive empirical evidence of improvement (you and I call this stats). Smith highest standards would often mean he’d pick out the 1 missed tackle rather than congratulate the player on the 10 they made. With the Super Rugby season being a great deal shorter than the premiership, Smith over time had to contend with elements that were new to him & his coaching team- the mental and physical grind of the ten-month season,having to contend poor conditions & variable pitches across the country, the varying strength of the opposition side and pressure of needing to finish inside the top 4 and avoid a relegation battle.

The need to win was constant, the need to perform to the DOR exalted standards equally so, but by wanting to treat every game as a cup final had a long term negative effect as it added to the pressure and drained the group of energy. Whilst driving standards & wanting players to improve is imperative, discovering a diverse means to freshen up the message, to offer praise & criticism in equal measure allows an opportunity to cultivate a positive atmosphere inside the squad that lasts longer over the season.

Identifying the opportune time when to increase pressure on improving standards and when detecting signs of stress or external pressures to temper those demands for high standards and individual improvement. One constant that remains is developing a relationship with the players, built on trust & honesty but augmenting the model used by Smith & ensuring in building confidence & self-reliance in the group to perform skills/techniques without fear & at a consistently high standard.


“Good coaches coach the discipline. Great coaches coach the person doing the discipline.”

Damian Hughes


Trust is the cornerstone of building the relationship, not just between player & coach but also between the players themselves. It breeds confidence in one another & quashes tensions that threaten the relationship & gives it scope to evolve over time.

So when Dowse was out of contract at Saints they wanted to keep him but couldn’t agree on a deal, I’ve no idea if coaching was or wasn’t involved in that. But Jim identified him as a long-term answer to what seems like a short-term problem, the forwards. It’ll be interesting to see if we see more success from the academy in the future. We’ve got a bit of a collective issue around it. We don’t have a massive catchment area to work in like Exeter or Sale or Newcastle & Sarries & now Wasps have plundered it.  As supporters we’ve always had a desire to see young local lads play.

But we’ve struggled with recruitment as everyone knows. We don’t poach anymore. We get poached on.

Yet consider this-

If we’d given Dowse another contract would we have finally seen T come through into the 1st team? I dunno.

Even then T was given a run in the team through injury & necessity & not finding a replacement for Samu who wouldn’t arrive for another 12 months. Trust is earned. Though what had happened since we’d won the league was opportunities had lessened & lessened, we became conservative. I can even pinpoint where it started to happen, a shift in ethos.

January 2015, in an away game to Sale. On that day Saints were out-fought & out-thought & Dimes & Co has set out a blueprint for others to follow. By May other Aviva sides were employing it.

And of course it’s all been downhill from there. Nobby is a coercive leader demanding immediate compliance, employing blunt, strong-arm tactics. These work when you’re 18-23 & wide-eyed as the players he inherited were, Woody, Dylan, Courts, Dowse, Alex W, Mikey, etc. However, the same tactics won’t work once most of those players have 50+ England caps or are lions or are in their late 20’s or have heard it over & over for 10 years. It’s uninspiring.

Slowly but surely the methods employed polarised those that brought the club success. Here is Lenconi’s 5 dysfunctions of a team to elaborate.

Lenconi’s 5 dysfunctions of a team

Solomons was also a coercive leader, again demanding immediate compliance, employing blunt, strong-arm tactics, micro-managing players to employ exactly what he wanted and expected down to the minute detail. In comparison to working with Smith some players were unable to deal with this level of candidness & immediately made it difficult to build a relationship or trust between him and the players. The regimented brand of rugby was also a stark contrast to what the players had employed, enjoyed and had proven fruitful.

Only certain players were allowed to carry the ball whilst others had to clear out, there was strict areas of the field we weren’t allowed to run the ball more than two phases before kicking.

Sound familiar?

This quickly created a toxic atmosphere, greater unrest within the group and the Northampton mafia expressed their feelings to Uncle Keith and combined with their lack of effort in the games Solomons was sacked for 8 loses on the bounce. The coaching relationship is seen as integral to individual coaching, but less is known about the nature of the relationship within a team-coaching context.

Whilst specific clarity in the message to the playing staff allows for the implementation of an exacting game plan with exquisite detail, the misgivings of the players to a rigorous and intractable plan & with no right to reply meant the bond of trust, so important in building the ethos of his predecessor were unraveled inside of a few weeks.

In comparison, we’ve seen the same thing happen but over the course of 3 years.

Solomons was unwilling and unable to stand by his word, and his word is his bond.  Some of his countrymen he had brought to the club were given a longer leash than some of the clubs stalwarts & developed into a ‘them & us’ mentality. With the trust gone, the game was up. The same thing now, not with Jim but with Nobby & to some extent King too.

At the start of the relationship, coaches want to earn and offer trust to players. Essentially, as a coach you want to be able to create a psychologically safe environment, in which individuals are willing & able to open up about concerns they might have about their own capability and those of team members in terms of team performance and the delivery of team coaching goals.

So here’s the thing, Nobby isn’t a bad coach, far from it. He can point to Dyl, Courts, Samu, Woody, Cal Clark, Alex W & T & say “I did that.”

But long-term reader of the COYS/ Marching on will probably recall me saying time and again the phrase ‘adapt or die’. And that’s just it, Nobby hasn’t. What worked with young lads in 07 just won’t in 2017. The generation gap is huge now. Not just with senior players but Academy lads too.

There’s two types of managers, you might have heard this one-

1- You’ve got a problem there mate, you better fix it.

2- You’ve got a problem there mate, don’t worry I’ll fix it for you.

Problem is that Nobby falls into a 3rd category; he’s a coach who won’t tell you there’s a problem. He probably see’s it, he probably knows how to fix it, but does he know how to explain it? Does he want to? So many questions, so few answers.


“My focus is on improving these young men as players and as human beings. If I do that, the results will come.”

Bruce Arians, Head coach of Arizona Cardinals


Successful leaders capture their audience, plant an idea within the playing group by drawing on their knowledge, experience and perspective, to guide, correct and challenge whilst the roots are taking hold. Once the roots of the strategy are established they look to empower the leaders within the group to take ownership & drive standards whilst supporting their leadership development.

Saints have stopped doing that.

When Dyl stood down we expected senior players to take up mantle.

That’s simply not happened. Fodes, Smyler, Woody, Dowse, Dicko, Daisy, unfortunately they’ve played a part. But again no one person is to blame, not Nobby or Jim or the board or anyone else. It’s a collective dysfunction. But again we come back to the problems of recruitment. When Jim arrived he brought a cadre of young England A players with him, they evolved, improved, became regular England internationals. Then Dimes introduced some under rated Boks to bolster the squad. All improved & most…

Again, Nobby played a big part in this. So too did Grayse, who took Symler from a 60% goal kicker to an 85% goal kicker. Nobby helped build Tiny Tongaʻuiha & Samu Manoa into legit world-class monsters.  They weren’t replaced but also the game plan revolved around a lot of the other players picking up the slack to ensure they could perform in the eye-catching manner they did.

For example, Samu couldn’t run a lineout, wasn’t the best jumper either, often found himself lifting. He wasn’t the best scrummager either. In big games Nobby would pick Samu & Courts together in the 2nd row & more often than not we’d lose because the set piece didn’t function. Other players would have to cover Samu so he could stand wide in channels. Ok, a lot of players at other clubs do this too, but Samu, who some journalists will tell you we haven’t replaced & it all went tits when he left forget or didn’t realise his liabilities.

This might sound like a dig at the lad, it’s not intended that way, but look at the difference when at Toulon the team isn’t built around him. So then we spent a summer trying to bring him back to the club. After we’d just signed Picamoles? (Who had similar liabilities too)

Recruitment. See, here’s what worries me. We can’t spend money like Sarries or Bath or Wasps or even Sale now. We’re a PLC. The best comparison I can make it that many AP clubs are going down the same route as county cricket. After the ashes yesterday morning Geoff Boycott made a brilliant point about the counties almost all of who are seemingly struggling to survive financially. So they make decisions based not on Cricket (or rugby in our case) but on money, on staying out of debt.

This is saints.

Saints made a profit for 15 years under Robson, good. Yay. Where’s it got us? I mean in the long run? Where’s it got us? Do we get a trophy for being well run? Off the pitch the match day experience is a flustercuck. Poor quality food & beer, poor experience, poor service. But it served as a good distraction as the rugby went to poop over the last 3 years so…

So where do saints for from here? Good question isn’t it? I have serious reservations about the board being able to get the successor right & with no disrespect to Alan Dickens if he gets a decent run of wins going post-Xmas he’ll get the job. Our board’s mindset seems to be not one of lets get the right person, if it was they’d have had someone lined up. They knew this day was coming, surely, even if they’ve only been here a short while (Darbon) No, the County Cricket mantra is recruit from within cos it’s cheap & easy.

Again, that’s not a dig at Alan, honestly I do want him to succeed, if only to prove Jim was right to promote him. But with Jim leaving we’ve basically screwed our recruitment for next season, unless we do actually recruit a big name & someone who’ll coach players on, teach them.

So again, we look at the options & it all gets a bit depressing. We’ve missed the boat on Lam, Ackermann, Townsend, all former Saints, who know the club & also on Dave Rennie, all these lads (asides from Gregor) are Sons of Smith.

All played & coached under Wayne Smith.

That’s a unique group in the AP (& some in NZ) of players who played under Smith whilst he was coaching at Saints. Ali Heapher, Rob Hunter, Bruce Reihana, Paul Diggin, Tom Smith, Ian Vass, Paul Grayson, Joe Shaw Johan Ackermann & our kid are all coaching now at the top level.

I’ve no idea if they’ll ever coach at saints (again for some of them). Our beloved Digger is still there working & learning, earning his trade. But do we have to have a former saint on the coaching staff? Is there a desire for the supporters to employ a familiar face? All these guys are at various points in their coaching careers. It’s worth pointing out that Exeter, who are flying, well done, weren’t going anywhere until Ali & Rob showed up. But the press want you to think that Baxter did it all himself.

To be honest, there’s a real opportunity to take the saints forwards. I just don’t think anyone currently at the club has the gumption or the ability to do it-

A complete rejig of the coaching staff hierarchy more in line with something that focuses on player coaching & improvement.

Some clubs are already doing it. It’s comparative to the NFL coaching selection.

Director of Rugby

Head of recruitment (Ad-hoc support of a consultant agent/agency)

Head Coach

Head of Analysis & tactics

Scrum Coach

Lineout Coach

Breakdown Coach

Kicking Coach

Defense Coach

Attack/Skills Coach

Academy Coaches

Coaching specifics, more one on one, more conversation, more analysis, shifting away from the ‘sent to Coventry’ or ‘he’s just not good enough’ approach. Set goals and work-ons that are attainable, give challenges that push players harder but most of all, new voices and new ideas. From there we can build a new culture, start again & look to get back on top.

Be warned though these things don’t happen overnight. That’s the only thing I know for sure.

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Marching On
NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Marching On (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 07:58
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Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
herbie85 (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 08:29
Good read Robby, thanks

San Miguel
Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
San Miguel (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 08:51
Crikey! It's like trying to tackle The Lord Of The Rings extended editions in one sitting. However, so much thought and insight has gone into it .. and have to agree with so much of it too.

Would dearly love for somebody like Christian Day or Phil Dowson to have a read and provide comments. Not going to happen but to have them corroborate or refute would be gold.

One thing's for sure: like a lot of us, Robby REALLY cares about what has gone on recently at Saints and can provide some chastening examples of where we have mucked up in the past. I certainly learned a lot .. particularly about the Smith and Solomons eras.

I suspect I'll be returning to this piece a few times over the next couple of days.

Thanks Robby. Superb work.

Casual Saint
Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Casual Saint (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 08:57
Excellent, insightful read. Plenty to think about and mull over.

Once a scrum half .... always a scrum half

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
HRsaints fan (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 08:59
Excellent piece Robby. Thank you so much for taking time to do this. It does explain to me why the problems at Saints cannot be solved overnight, but given the right decisions, they can at least be solved!

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Saintsby (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 09:11
Having been through all the coaching regimes and ridden the Saints roller coaster since 1998. This well written and thoughtful article crystallises my experiences, joys, sadness, and some bewilderment too very eloquently indeed, Thanks Robbie. It also fills me with (in almost) equal measure with hope and dread, hope someone Like Uncle Keith or A.N. other reads it takes note and before a DOR or coach is appointed appoints a real rugby brain to the board if not 2.

I reckon we have one last chance here to affect a major turnaround and include all the valid points about coaching a Premiership rugby team in 2017 as made above, my fear however is inertia and a 'sticking plaster' for another year or two before oblivion.

My view FWIW = break the bank, beg, borrow or steal to get Ali Hepher, and or Rob Hunter Or a good SH brain aka Robbie Deans as mentioned by Wolfie. Shan't hold my breath sadly.

Very good piece Robby with a lot of reasearch carefully done it should be printed off and circulated round the club especially to the board, KB, and playing/coaching staff.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2017:12:20:09:16:20 by Bob Stainsby.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Walks11 (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 09:11
Good read Robbie..

I donít know Dorian at all or know what is or has been happening but my impression is that as you say the methods he employed 10 years ago when he wasnít long retired worked. He was still in touch with the game, tactics, methods. 10 years is a long time and the game has moved on significantly we have moved on but not at the pace to keep up with everyone else. He has failed to adapt and Jim for whatever reason feels he owes Dorian a large degree of loyalty. Yes he should have been hugely thankful for Dorianís input during the early years, but should have been a pat on the back and farewell.

You make a great point in that in any team environment, office, rugby field or wherever understanding your team on an individual basis is key to success. Donít try and change everyone so that they are all the same but utilise their respective strengths to build a team that collectively is greater than the sum of its parts.

I hope someone comes in to turn it round and that Alan Dickens for his sake isnít given the job permanently as itís too soon. I suspect it will be a Ďnameí who will not necessarily be right for the Saints

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
BerniesBestFriend (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 09:22
Very good Robby, thank you...I read this and on the one hand feel optimistic as there is an answer, however I then feel low as I don't have any faith in the Club (Board) getting it right.

I have/do put so much emotional investment into Saints that right now I feel I've not much left...

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
tedge (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 09:34
It's an over-simplification I know but it seems to suggest that what is really needed is a completely new Board. That's the most unlikely and last thing that will happen.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
rugbymel (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 09:55
Thanks Robby for an insightful and interesting article. I think itís too much to hope that anyone with any influence will read it. The club is at a dangerous fork in the road with the current financing of the game the way it is. Iím usually a glass half full person but I have a worrying feeling that Saints are on a slippery slope downhill. All we can do is to offer as much support as we can.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
ajack (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 10:11
Good article Rob. Personally I think culture is everything you keep changing little things but the team and the long term is always key. All teams have highs and lows but I am impressed by teams like Leinster who seem to strike a very good balance between working from within and recruiting key personal from outside for very specific needs. How long as Leo Cullen been coaching? But look at the people he has worked under and currently works with. Hard to see anyone but a been there done that type coach starting that off at Saints again.

Bob Fossil
Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Robby Richmond (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 10:21
Thanks for the kind words folks, reading it back my grammar is awful so sorry for that. Don't write when you're tired!

I don't think we need a new board Tedge, we needed someone on there who knows the game inside out, whose played and coached at the highest level.

I know it reads like an attack on Bealer, I'm just being facetious.

I'm curious how brave they are on the board. It's taken 18 months to get a decision out of them, regardless of who is on the board then or now. Are they brave enough to interview & employ someone who is going to come in, change a lot (not everything like Solomons) inspire the players and the supporters, speaks well and is honest, again with the players and the supporters but most importantly, has the trust of the board, the players and us supporters too.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
headman (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 10:35
This is an excellent article and the suggestion that a set up similar to the NFL with specific jobs should be read and adopted by the Directors. There are one or two within that Club who could adopt a couple of roles, but I am afraid that the coaches remaining in the top positions need to be replaced with new ideas and the ability to motivate the players from new appointees. There has been disillusionment in my opinion over the past two years from certain players over the tactics and methods of coaching. I read the Leicester network board yesterday and those commenting are not happy about what is happening there especially when their A team is comprehensively hammered by the Wanderers, whose coach is Phil Dowson!!Well done, Rob. You need to be on the interview panel!

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Saintsby (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 10:46
The Board as currently constituted sadly don't just know who, they also don't know how, they need that(those) rugby brains onboard yesterday.

Saints donít have the luxury of time. As Winston Churchill used to append to crucial memos to his lieutenants "Action this day" Another termination is 48 hours overdue.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Dragonboy (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 10:54
Thanks for a very well thought out piece Robbie. Like fellow posters I'm in very much of the same mindset that I think the wrong person has gone and really struggle to see where the next DOR is going to come from, other than the ranks of the also rans. Not advocating Gatland or Ford but I would imagine a lot of phone calls going along the lines as you surmise at the top of the article, and possibly a lot of farcical £ requests from agents etc sensing that we are desperate and are maybe willing to pay over the odds as a result. Sadly I think things are going to get worse before they get better with the most obvious problem being recruitment and retention for next year in the short term. This is not pessimism, just being realistic, despite the statement saying only 120 (I think) tickets remain for Saturday's game. Hopefully that is true and that we see the stadium full.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Wilson Pickett (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 10:54
Thank you Robby.

I especially like the Bruce Arians quote, this is very very important IMHO. Saracens seek to improve their guys as men and players. Too many anecdotes that over the last few years we have little interest in marginal gains for each person, mentoring etc.

Really good piece sir, I doff my hat

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Stockers (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 11:05

Thanks Robby, great insight.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Duckonstilts (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 11:10
Great read Robby, the Grammar is not as bad as you think ;-)

We probably a couple of changes on the board, one with a lot of rugby knowledge, a been there done that wise head who can, if not fix the problems at least identify that there are problems in the first place. The second person needs to be like Digger, not the man himself but a Saints cheerleader and enthusiast who drags the board members out of the boxes and into the stands, reminds them they need to be fans as well as employees and get involved with the supporters, joins in on trips, sings our songs. Someone like KB when he was younger and more able. There is a reason we call him Uncle Keith.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
LaurieK (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 11:23
Good stuff, Robbie, a lot to chew over. The implication is that we are held back because we are a PLC. Rich people's vanity projects give more scope plus they have money to throw at problems. From that and if we can't compete financially then we have to be prepared to have some years of struggle. I don't mind being mid table but I do want to see a Saints brand of rugby. For three years I've gone to FG and had no idea what game plan or strategy the team have had.

I don't mind there being a lack of rugby knowledge on the Board. That does not stop you doing your analysis, finding your trusted voices, having an objective and making strong decisions. Clear headed thinking is what's needed. Whether that will occur is another matter.

We all know about ex players who coach at a high level elsewhere. But what do we do about it. Again I think it's down to the Board to identify potential, let people go off and learn coaching but know they will bring them back at some point.

If we accept that we are not big players financially we need to be smarter. Better recruitment, better identification of talent, better academy, better coaching, better man management, better skills development, better fitness and conditioning, better adaptability, better forward planning.

The crime at Saints is that we have been here before. We are not learning.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
SAINT_aitch (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 11:38
Excellent work Robby, well done.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Wrench (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 11:42
Superb read Robby. Elaborates hugely eloquently on my own perceptions from the outside looking in on the set up at Saints. Very much at an adapt or die crossroads. Hoping against hope we manage to choose the former route

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
OldPete (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 11:55
Robby thank you - for distilling the essence of a complex and multifaceted problem so eloquently and passionately.

if I read you correctly a major part of the problem is that the board is basically a conservative minded outfit capable only of short term thinking.

When the game went professional Uncle Keith led the revolution to make us what we became a professional premiership rugby club.

It seems to me and you might expect me to say so - we need another revolution.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Wilson Pickett (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 12:28
Agree with that Pete. There is not enough dynamic thinking.

Saint Stokey
Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Saint Stokey (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 12:33
I wonder whether this is worth emailing to the board.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Saintsby (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 12:54
Laurie, I agree with pretty much all you say apart from the 'money Ďissue. Whilst I totally agree it is a huge help/bonus etc I would also point out Exeter have a similar financial model to us with off pitch revenue from a conferencing and banqueting facility. OK Mr Rowe/SW Telecoms has invested not dissimilar amounts to the Barwellís too.

Exeter currently sit top of the Table and won the Premiership last season because of coaching, systems, development of youth and pretty much all the elements Robbie refers to that Saints are missing currently or not developed over the years and as you rightly say here we are again no we are not learning

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2017:12:20:12:58:46 by Bob Stainsby.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
tedge (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 13:02
Perhaps Mr Baxter et al would relish a new challenge ?

Bob Fossil
Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Robby Richmond (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 13:04
Yes Pete, I'm in full agreement with that but like your good self would be delighted to be proven wrong.
As usual I'd be the 1st to put my hand up too.

Again, reading it back it might seem like a dig at Mark Darbon, if he does read this, which I doubt, I hope he sees it more as a challenge rather than form of castigation.

Bob Fossil
Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Robby Richmond (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 13:07
Perhaps Mr Baxter et al would relish a new challenge ?

I wondered something similar Tedge, though as we know the coaching team at Exeter signed new deals in July.
However, you have to also wonder if Ali & Rob fancy a big promotion a couple of years ahead of schedule?

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
riverlodge (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 13:09
excellent read Robby, thankyou for writing it.

my own (very distant I should add) gut feel is that your "be warned, these things don't happen overnight" sign off is apposite. While there is a real opportunity for decent leader to turn this around, it will more than likely get worse before it gets better.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
tedge (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 13:11
Robby Richmond
Perhaps Mr Baxter et al would relish a new challenge ?

I wondered something similar Tedge, though as we know the coaching team at Exeter signed new deals in July.
However, you have to also wonder if Ali & Rob fancy a big promotion a couple of years ahead of schedule?

I would regard Hepher and Hunter as my prime targets although if they all came as a trio even better ! Interesting that the Saxons picked Dickens as no. 1 and Hepher as no. 2 in SA - wonder why. Did the Saxons also have a forwards coach or not ?

Bob Fossil
Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Robby Richmond (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 13:18
Saxons forwards coach was Simon Hardy (who retired last year) & Richard Blaze IRCC, recently booted at Tigers as their lineout went to pot.

Ian Vass is coaching in France now, was a successful England U20's RWC winning coach.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Wilson Pickett (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 13:52
Richmond (D!)

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
LaurieK (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 14:28
My only retort Bob is that Exeter have a large catchment of rugby playing schools and clubs in the SW. That gives them a huge advantage. They can then cherry pick certain players to fill gaps where they are not strong. Having said that Baxter has recruited well and has taken average players and made them better. But then again, Jim did that in his early years and very successfully. Baxter might not be as good at in 6/7 years time.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
ajack (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 14:47
If it is such a huge advantage why did it take so many years for them to get where they are today?

Bob Fossil
Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Robby Richmond (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 15:05
If it is such a huge advantage why did it take so many years for them to get where they are today?

Because they weren't geared up for it until the RFU awarded them Academy status, brought in coaches & staff to upscale it and identify talent. That's why so many of the Exeter team are legitimately homegrown, but it's taken around 10 years to get it working & get those academy grads to a level of performance & experience to match their abilities.

Again, people seem to forget Exeter were decidedly average in Div 1 until Ali & Rob arrived. They were in the top tier of the league, yes, would that side have survived in the Premiership? Nooooo.
Still, it's a process, building a winning culture. Great example really, took 10 years.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
tedge (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 15:21
And their starting point at FG would be considerably more advanced that when they started at Exeter

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
riverlodge (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 16:36
question to those who know: is Saints (now) really a bigger gig than Chuffs has become?

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Saintsby (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 16:59
Laurie Thanks for your reply (BTW what a great debate this excellent analysis has provoked - kudos Robbie) I agree re catchment and further posts re RFU input and timescales from those in the know. The other thing Exe do well is act quickly and cleverly in using the cap£ to bring in established players in the right position at the right time, example Thomas the tank anyone? there are others! (sorry brain malfunction due to work pressure)

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
andysaint (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 18:02
Excellent article thanks Robby. It does make you think what is in store for the club in the future. From what I am reading it would have been better for Jim to stay in some capacity if he made changes which he did not want to do which to me I find odd. There is clearly a lack of succession planning all over, coaches, board, players. The short term future is troubling.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
fair_weather_fan (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 18:07
Thanks for that Robby an interesting read. No wonder you went quiet for a spell.

On the negative side

We cant afford a coaching staff of eleven, although presumably you would accept some doubling up/outsiders brought in for workshops in certain cases?

There is clearly a problem at management level in the club. There were comments when I referred to Darbon as bland. I have seen too many of these corporate types who are used to talking in code and cliches. WE need to see some passion, a bit of the supporter. The board failed to fulfil its role and you have to look at the relationships - too close and cosy, and to the non-execs who have to step in when the execs don't do their jobs. If the board doesnt function and dotheir jobs properly it will be hard for the DOR and coaches to do theirs. As you say, no succession planning, apparently.

I would say an ordinary shareholder on the board would be a positive move. Not someone who is somebody's spouse or mate.

On the positive side, its interesting to see anyone use a specific criterion (influenced by Smith) as a means of creating a short list for DOR here. It looks good - we can all see the influence of this guy. The absence of such a criterion has led to us looking clueless, as in anyone can make a list of top people in the game.

Lets hope Robbie Deans wants to come and Ian Vass can be prised away from France!

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
andysaint (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 19:07
Ben Kay is on the board at Tigers is this the kind of person required? Would it be worth looking at Day who has previous experience with the RPA to look at going on the board following playing retirement?

Bob Fossil
Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Robby Richmond (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 19:19

We cant afford a coaching staff of eleven, although presumably you would accept some doubling up/outsiders brought in for workshops in certain cases?

You'd think that wouldn't you, that it'd be expensive? But you've actually answered the issue yourself there. You employ some of these coaches on a consultancy basis. For example, there's no need to employ a scrum coach 6 days a week. The structure of the training week means they'd need two or three sessions in a week, one of which I'd like to be a video session & then again be there for matchdays. Two and half days a week.
I agree, and I've always been an advocate of guest coaches coming in now and again, freshen up training, do something different. It can be incredibly laborious and tedious as much as it can be physically and mentally demanding too.

I look at this way, you could have a team of four or five and burn them out working 6 days a week for 11 months of the year or you could have a larger team who can spread the weight and work on specifics without it being repetitive. You do need a DOR who is willing to be a more participative leader. Someone who values the input of his/her coaching team, treating them all as equals but with the responsibility of making the final decision rests with the DOR. This team based management style works well within many US based sports, with all the coaches trusting one another & this is helped, naturally, by the huge amount of talent around the table.

This is due to a core group of talented players, coaches & staff pulling together and collaborating to overcome challenges where some the clubs/teams/franchises lack the resources of other organisations, be it squad size, quality of facilities or amount of time between games (Playing on a Sunday & then again on a Friday is massively challenging). This leadership style often boosts employee morale right across the club because they have all made contributions to the decision-making process. Their opinions matter & the trust in the talent often garners positive results.

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.
Henry Ford

I realise it can be seen as risky or even expensive, but this is the way the game is going eventually, better perhaps to get in on the ground floor?

Saint Ted
Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Saint Ted (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 19:51
Getting coaches in for a couple of sessions a week is nothing new, a former coach of this parish has been working on kicking with individuals at various clubs as well as doing a couple of days a week at a premiership club

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
smitferbrainz (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 20:32
Superb analysis. A really interesting read. Depressing stuff to be honest. The position can be seen in its starkest terms. Very worrying.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
SaintMaul (IP Logged)
20/12/2017 20:45
Thought-provoking and lots of insights

Cheers Robby

Eif Jones
Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Eif Jones (IP Logged)
21/12/2017 02:34
Mallinder had to go. I moved down here from Knutsford where Sale were my local team. For a few years I still had half an eye on their progress. Mallinder took over at Sale when they had a trophy winning squad, can't remember how long it took but, like at Saints, they quickly moved down the league. Wikipedia has glossed over that period, he was moved on but to soften the blow he got a job with the RFU. I remember going to Welford Rd at a time when he was in charge and his body language there when Sale were comprehensively beaten was no different to what has been happening here at Saints. It was only a matter of time before he was sacked.

Re: NEWS: Coaching and Saints Conundrum
Chris G (IP Logged)
22/12/2017 22:52
Care to look over his record in that RFU job Eif as to whether he's a bad a coach as you paint?

(Oh and a good read Roberto)

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