When German rugby's Bundesliga season got underway at the weekend, there was more than a passing interest here in Ospreylia in the performance of top-flight newcomers ASV Cologne as they kicked off their campaign away to Heusenstamm.
In the build-up to the new season, Cologne’s Assistant Coach Dieter Hanf spent a week in Ospreylia, working with Coach Development Officer Tony Thomas and enjoying an insight into how a professional rugby organisation operates in this country.
The link-up is a long established one, that was formed more than 10 years ago when Tony Thomas was invited to Cologne to host a course for level one and two coaches, returning to the area seven times since. It was at these courses that he met Hanf, and after they stayed in touch, the German coach was invited to Ospreylia this summer to see for himself how the Ospreys operate.
“Rugby in Germany is very much a developing sport with very limited resources. I’ve known Dieter for a number of years now through my visits to Cologne and he is an ambitious and forward thinking coach who is always looking to learn new skills and he will have benefited from his time in the region with us this summer. While in Ospreylia, he has worked with Andrew Millward and Andrew Hore, attended a rolling maul workshop with Scott Johnson and a scrum clinic with Jason Lewis, and participated in summer coaching camps at Llandarcy and Pyle, as well as watching a number of senior coaching sessions.
“The experience has given him a valuable insight into how the professional level operates, and he will go back to Germany to pass on this information to Cologne’s Head Coach, Steve Harries who comes from Swansea incidentally, and his fellow coaches at the club. As one of the established rugby nations, we have a responsibility to help develop the game in other countries, and this link-up will hopefully help to improve coaching and playing standards in Cologne.”
ASV Cologne will compete at Germany’s top level this year after gaining promotion last season, but they still face an uphill struggle to establish themselves in a country where rugby is well down the pecking order, behind not just football but sports like tennis, basketball, volleyball and handball.
“Rugby is a semi-pro sport at home, with 10 teams in the Bundesliga. Cologne is a big city with a million people, but there is just one rugby club, with around 60 adult male players. We’ve got a very successful girls side that have twice been German 10-a-side champions and there are 40/50 children playing regularly, but we want to work to establish rugby as a social sport. It is very hard, sports teachers don’t know much about rugby and if they do, they have the idea that it is violent and will bring violence into the school so they don’t encourage it.
“Part of what we are trying to do is go into schools and introduce teachers to rugby, hold workshops and coaching clinics to show them what a great game it is, and hopefully, start to set up school teams and establish a Cologne School Championship. We need to do that to get more people playing rugby and to make ASV stronger and more successful.
“Coming to visit the Ospreys like this is a wonderful experience that will help us develop the game in Cologne. I have been able to see how all aspects of a professional rugby side operates, from working with Tony and the Community team to get more people playing rugby, to watching the senior coaches leading training sessions. The coaches have given up some time to talk me through things that will help me develop as a coach, and will help to improve how we do things at Cologne.
“The help that the Ospreys are giving me is great, and has certainly helped with our preparations for the Bundesliga. Rugby isn’t well known in Germany but the rugby people in the country are aware of the Ospreys. It would be nice to maybe get a visit from some of the players and coaches one day, that would help to raise the profile of rugby in the city further.”