The 14th of November saw Australian rugby legend, David Campese, lead a coaching session at Watford Grammar School for Boys. The session was organised by Peter Evans, the managing director of MET Coaches. With twenty-five 17 to 18 year olds taking part, Campese showed them the tricks of the trade with a series of exercises designed to improve their game and give them a taste of what professional rugby is all about.
The workshop focused on some main principles that Campese wanted to impart, namely that communication during the game is key and that spiral passing is a big no-no. “The way you train is the way you play,” he told the boys, “make it simple!” The session began with a basic passing warm up, with each pass requiring the boys to call for the ball. If they failed to do so, the whole group had to do twenty push-ups. It took them a while, but by the end of the session, calling out to each other became second nature, if only because they were tired of all the push-ups. Each exercise was designed to teach them the importance of passing. Repetition was key, practicing passes over and over again because, as Campese said himself, “one bad pass and everything falls apart”. At the end of the workshop he made sure to reiterate this point: “I did this [practicing simple passes] for 15 years, because if you can do this, you can do everything else.”
A question and answer session followed the workshop. During this, Campese’s love for the game was clear to see, calling it a “unique sport” and telling the boys that he earned £20 a day during the build up to the 1987 Rugby World Cup. “We did it in a era when it wasn’t about money, we just loved playing,” he said. “It’s a different game [now], the coach runs the game and players can’t think [for themselves]”. He wanted the boys to know that if they were serious about rugby, they should play it because they love the sport, not for the monetary reward. “If you want to be good, you have to watch and listen”, he advised, suggesting that they watch games regularly, learning from their favourite players and adopting techniques into their own playing.
One boy asked about Campese’s current favourite players. New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett and Ben Smith, and Australia’s Michael Hooper seemed to rank highly in his professional regard. A follow up question about his predictions for the next Rugby World Cup winner caused him to pause and think. “New Zealand is hard to beat,” he acknowledged, but their recent loss against Australia has shown that they’re becoming too relaxed and filled him with confidence that his beloved home team could pull a Would Cup win out of the bag.
Another boy then asked: “did you ever feel nervous before a game?” Campese chucked confidently before answering: “when I was in a dressing room, I knew I had done everything I could during training,” which ultimately gave him the self-believe he needed during a game.
Finally, his best advice for the budding rugby stars? Say yes to opportunities that come your way. “If someone asks if you want to go and play in Australia, say yes! You might not get that chance again… go!” And with that, the session was over. The boys headed back to their classes, slightly muddy and sweaty but with the knowledge they needed to significantly improve their rugby game, and the inspiration to follow in Campese’s impressive footsteps one day.
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