Richard Graham, the newly appointed Wallaby skills coach, is looking forward to coming home to be part of the Wallabies set-up, not only because he’ll get to live close to Sydney’s great beaches, but more particularly working with Robbie Deans.
Speaking to G&GR from his coaching den at English Premiership club, Saracens, Graham explained
“We will get home (from London) two days before the first Wallaby camp. To start with I’ll be in Brisbane but probably after the end of year tour we’ll move to Sydney – after being a London boy for 7 years I’m looking forward to it, especially the beaches. It will be great to work with Robbie, he’s a great fella, a deep thinker of the game, very honest and very grounded.”
It was a meeting with Deans on the Wallabies Autumn tour of Europe last year, where the selection process for the job begun.
“We met, as he (Deans) did with a fair few Australian coaches while he was over here, we had a chat and I guess he got a feel for me as a person. We also spoke a few times on the phone after that and I suppose he did his research, talking to people I’d worked with to find out what sort of coach I was – it all seemed to progress from there.”
Apart from Graham being impressed with Deans as an individual he is also impressed with what he has achieved skills wise with the Wallabies in his first season with the team.
“Robbie’s game philosophy is one very much based on skills and developing a player’s abilities. He’s certainly a long way down the track in terms of promoting that philosophy and working with the players in promoting those skills. For me it will be about developing those skills to fit in with the overall game plan or game structure.”
While Graham says he has not yet discussed specific skill needs of players with Deans, he doesn’t believe there will be a dramatic shift in the style of play the Wallabies have shown thus far. That’s not to say that Graham will just be following “the Deans” method.
“I like to experiment with things and see if they work. I like to look at other sports and see what types of skills those players have and if they could be transferable in someway. With skills coaching, at times, there is a fair bit of latitude with what you can do”
“There’s plenty of different methods. We tend to bounce around idea’s in terms of getting players to perform a skill set, your imagination is the key factor. I like to use video to record a player doing a skill then have an instant review and re-drill, then try the skill again”
So can we expect to see Wallabies skills sessions filled with weird and whacky skill drills this season?
“Some things are non-negotiable with skills and you know they work – the ‘catch-pass’ stuff in limited space against different pressures, that’s always going to work, but it’s about finding ways to improve. The big thing is, no matter what you’re doing, if you aren’t seeing transference to the rugby field, then something’s not right and changes need to be made”
“The good thing is the players at this level know what they aren’t doing well and what they need to improve, so I plan to be an extra set of eyes at training and offer the players different ideas as well as work with Robbie to come up with different things to improve a particular skill”
Deans and Graham have similar ideas about making drills game based. Graham believes that replicating game situations when introducing skills is the best way to get results. He says that getting players to perform in limited space under pressure as they have to in a game is one method he uses.
“What we do is that if a player makes a skill error during a drill-game, the player can be sent over to the skills coach to work on the skill for 2 or 3 repetitions before re-joining the game – this gives the player a real focus on the skill. Individual sessions are generally done at the end of the training session and were skills can be tailored for specific players or positions”
With Saracens still in contention for the European Challenge Cup (2nd division of the Heineken cup) and four games left in the Guinness Premiership, Graham is not yet fully focused on Australian rugby, however, he is slowly working through the 30 DVD’s of Super 14 games he has been sent thus far. So what has he seen that he likes about the various Australian teams?
“I’ve enjoyed watching the Waratahs play because what they do, they do well – that attrition style of play. It’s been good to see the Reds try and open their game up and be more expansive in their play and the Brumbies and Force have always had that expansive philosophy. I enjoy watching all styles and types of rugby because I think if you do it well, then it will be effective – I don’t necessarily think there is one style suits all”
Graham has already worked with some well credentialed coaches, Michael Foley and Brian Smith, while at Bath, Alan Gaffney, and most recently the ‘love-him-or-loathe-him’, Eddie Jones, both at Sarries. It is not surprising that with his current opportunity to examine and learn from Robbie Deans’ coaching methods, that Graham harbours future ambitions as a Head Coach.
“Everyone at my level aspires to be a head coach, but you need to be ready for it. I’ll keep trying to develop (as a coach) over the next 18 months to 2 years and see where it takes me.”
Let’s hope it takes him and the Wallabies to the top.