With the Ospreys mantra of 'development from within' now a well established one, internationals Ian Gough and Nikki Walker are the latest senior players to work with the age-grade squads as they look to gain valuable experience in a coaching environment.
The duo, who boast a wealth of experience at the top end of the professional game, will spend the season working with the Eyasses U16 coaching team, joining teammates Ryan Bevington and Jamie Nutbrown who are already working on a similar consultation basis with the U18 squad.
They are the latest in a line of players to have committed to gaining experience by working with players on the elite development pathway, following on from the likes of Andrew Millward, Filo Tiatia and Steve Tandy who have all progressed into other roles within the region.
33-year old Gough, who has been capped 63 times by Wales in an international career spanning more than 12 years, and Scottish cap Walker, the second highest try scorer in Ospreys history, will work closely with the U16 set-up, consulting with the coaches to improve their understanding and delivery of the Ospreys’ O.U.R.S. rugby system, as well as helping with game review and the logistics of training sessions.
By doing so, it will help to develop a strong ‘Ospreys way’, or rugby culture, that will make the transition from age-grade hopeful to fully fledged Osprey in the senior team an easier step to make, as up and coming players will have a good understanding of the style of play expected of them if they are fortunate to progress to the B or C group.
Whilst neither player has plans to hang up their boots just yet, they have both looked at the possibility of coaching in the future, and look upon these first steps as a way of giving something back to the game, in particular to the young hopefuls coming through the Ospreys development pathway.
“I think it’s very easy for a player to become a bit selfish without even recognising it, but it’s important that as you pick up experience over the years you don’t allow it to go to waste. When you’ve had a long career like I have, you want to share what you’ve learnt and you want to give a little something back.
“Personally, I know that you see massive progression with players of that age, young men coming through the system, and I realise that playing a small part in that progression can be very satisfying. These boys really want to be professional rugby players and have an appetite to learn. It makes me feel good to see them taking things on board, how they progress, how they absorb information and how they put it to use in a game.
“I realise that I’m very fortunate to have achieved what I have in rugby, and this is the new crop coming through who have the same aspirations I had when I was a young kid learning the ropes. If I can pass anything onto them, to help them achieve those aims then brilliant. It’s not a hands on role with the players, but the information and advice that I can pass on will hopefully benefit them as well as the coaches.
“At the moment I just want to feel my feet. I might not be the right person for it long term, my skill set may be best suited elsewhere but for now I want to see how I go at it, how the boys react to me in that environment. Every day I’m still learning, I’ve been on a 15 year learning curve that is still progressing, but I’ve got some knowledge that I hope will make a difference to these boys in the long-term.”
His thoughts were echoed by Walker, who said that his involvement this season would hopefully benefit both the Eyasses and his own coaching aspirations.
“They are trying to emulate what we are doing in the senior group, in terms of systems and styles of play” he commented.
“Being there with the U16’s, the two of us can feed through the information they need, help the coaches and the players to understand what the Ospreys are trying to achieve and how we are trying to play.
“We aren’t directly coaching, it’s just about helping them to understand the Ospreys game a bit better. It’s good experience for me, and even though it’s still early days I’m enjoying it. Coaching is something I might like to go into when I finish playing. I know that when I was younger I appreciated it when older players and internationals would give up time to help me, and coach me, and I hope that our involvement with the youngsters will be beneficial and appreciated in the same way.
“It’s good to get involved and help the younger Ospreys, to be able to assist in their development and to help educate them. It’s been brilliant for me personally so far. There are a lot of good players there, they are enthusiastic, want to learn and improve and they train hard. It’s great to be in that kind of environment.”
Elite performance Director, Andrew Hore, added:
“It’s excellent to see the players wanting to get involved in this way, which will help to develop our rugby culture here, with the younger players learning the ‘Ospreys way’ from the players involved at senior level.
“These boys are not coaching the team, and the pathway for age-grade coaches to be promoted from the District set-up remains vital to the long term sustainability of the Ospreys. However, what these players do bring is a deep rooted understanding of the O.U.R.S. system, which they can pass on to the coaches, and in turn, the age-grade players, making for a stronger rugby organisation.”