Monday, January 11, 2010

Brian Ashton and the art of creative rugby

For most of his roller-coaster career – one that included being part of an England set-up that reached consecutive World Cup finals – Brian Ashton has been held up as the embodiment of the enlightened rugby coach.

Say what you like about the mild-mannered Lancastrian or his management of the 2007 Webb Ellis campaign but he could never be accused of asking his teams to play anything other than intelligent, heads-up rugby.

Typically that would mean his sides would go out with the intention of moving the ball with ambition and flair and with an emphasis on imaginative threequarter play.

But similarly they might also be required to kick the corners or pick and drive. In short, Plan A would be complemented by Plans B and C and probably D, E and F as well.

And – here comes the revolutionary bit – under Ashton, the decision to switch between strategies is not the preserve of any one individual, least of all an ageing balding bloke sat on the sidelines.

Indeed, the 63-year-old has long spoken of empowering players to make calls on a situational basis and to that degree he is viewed as the arch-moderniser – and has been for the past 30 years.

The former England, Ireland and Bath mastermind was due to explain some of his principles at a coaching conference in Kidderminster on Sunday, but that has now been postponed due to the weather.

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