Ospreys stalwart Damian Karauna is packing his bags and heading home to New Zealand after accepting an offer to take up the post of Skills Coach with the national sevens team.
Karauna, who joined the Ospreys back in 2005 as a utility back, leaves the region after seven years service on and off the field. In the summer of 2006 he moved from playing to become a member of the backroom support staff at the region, operating first as Technical Analyst, before moving into coaching within the age-grade set-up, eventually being appointed as Elite Youth Performance Manager, overseeing the day-to-day delivery of the region’s player development programme.
Prior to arriving in Ospreylia, Karauna played Super XV rugby with the Chiefs and Hurricanes, and was a four-time IRB Sevens World Series champion with New Zealand.
The Ospreys coach development programme has seen a host of young coaches coming through the ranks at the region, with Head Coach Steve Tandy the most high profile graduate. Like Karauna, Filo Tiatia was head hunted after developing on the Ospreys pathway and is now Head Coach at Toyota Verblitz, while current Backs Coach Gruff Rees has also been in demand and spent time in Italy with Viadana before returning to the Ospreys at the end of last season. Beneath the current coaching regime there is another layer of young, developing coaches operating, showing that the pathway is working.
Reflecting on his time with the region, Karauna said that an unexpected opportunity handed to him back in 2006 had shaped his entire career:
“I’ve had an incredible time with the Ospreys. I’ve developed so much during my time with the region and I’m extremely grateful for all that everyone here has done for me.
“When I arrived at the Liberty Stadium seven years ago I thought I’d only be here for six months, see out the season, and then move on again. I was offered the opportunity to have a go at the analysis and it just seemed a good chance to stay involved at a high level and learn a new skill.
“The analysis side of things taught me a lot about breaking rugby down, something that maybe you don’t do as a player but is part and parcel of life as a coach now. It’s about getting the balance right as a coach, using it as a tool to assist you and not overdoing it. Doing hours and hours of analysis after a game you learn quite quickly to pick out the valid clips that will enable you to get the correct message across to your players, making it easy for the players to understand.
“I suppose that’s then helped me with my coaching as I’ve developed on that side. You’ve got to combine things, get the balance right, and use the right analysis to teach these kids, to coach them properly.
“Moving to a national side is a different challenge for me now. I’m not working with raw youngsters any more, these players are the best at what they do in the world. I’m looking forward to it though. It’s a challenge to work with them, to tweak things, and to use my analysis knowledge and my coaching ability, as well as my knowledge of the sevens game, to find those small areas of improvement that can make a big difference.
“All the little steps I’ve taken at the Ospreys, working with the U16s, working with the U18s, the role in elite youth development and working with Swansea, they’ve all allowed me to develop, to put together the blocks that have allowed me to become a better coach.”
Karauna paid tribute to the coach development pathway at the region, a clearly defined structure and outlook that offers every single coach within Ospreylia personal development opportunities, whatever level they are working at.
“The stepping stones are there for coaches to develop” stressed Karauna.
“The support network is there. The people are in place to guide you through and there is a clear pathway within the region for any coach, whatever level. The whole ethos is one of development and the goal is to be sustainable through development.
“With people like Andrew Hore and Andrew Millward overseeing things, there is no question about what direction is best for the Ospreys and that’s important, there’s clarity about youth development.
“There’s also a collective of young coaches with fresh ideas who can prove an inspiration to others. As a group, we’ve had world class mentors, guys that have not only achieved success but have passed on that knowledge, allowing you to take a little bit from each of them.
“I’m still very young in my coaching career, but I’ve no hesitation in saying that I’ve had a quality education here, allowing me to get to where I’m going with this new role. It’s hard to put into words really, but there is a long term goal in place in terms of coaching strategies here that will allow the Ospreys to prosper I’m sure.”
Paying tribute to Karauna for his efforts during his time at the Ospreys, Managing Director Roger Blyth said:
“Damian has been a wonderful servant to the region during his time here, really embracing Ospreylian life and the ethos of Ospreys Rugby. Although we are very sad to see him leave, we totally understand the calling of home and the New Zealand sevens team, another rugby organisation that is very close to his heart.
“He is a shining example of the Ospreys coach development ethos at work, and the fact that he has been headhunted for this role by one of world rugby’s leading organisation’s shows the quality of the work that we are doing here.
“With a young, locally produced coach like Steve Tandy at the helm, supported by the likes of Jonathan Humphreys and Gruff Rees, and with another raft of coaches coming through below him like Dan Griffiths, Mefin Davies, Ben Rose, Shaun Connor and even the likes of Tom Smith and Ian Gough, you can see the investment we are making as a business into coach development is paying dividends.
“Obviously, it pains us to lose someone of Damian’s calibre, but that is always the risk when you have a world leading development structure, such as the one Andrew Hore has been able to put in place thanks to the investment and support of the board. What is telling is that the production line continues.
“On behalf of the Ospreys I’d like to wish Damian and his family the very best for the future and we hope to see him return to the region one day.”
Saying his final farewells, Karauna acknowledged that Swansea would leave a permanent mark on his family.
“It’s not just been about the Ospreys, it’s been the full package” he said.
“I had a great time with Swansea RFC, I played for them over a number of years while I’ve been at the Ospreys, I think of them as my club and I’ve got a lot of good mates there. The year I had coaching there was another part of my education. It wasn’t a great year results wise but it was an important time for me.
“I’ve got a few butterflies going back. It’s a great opportunity for me to go back to a game that has always been a big part of my life, and to work with a coach (Gordon Tietjens) that I’ve always had a huge respect for, who’s probably got one of the best records in world rugby. I love sevens, it’s a great game and spectacle, and it’s an opportunity for young guys to put themselves up on the world stage.
“This is the start of another journey for me. My elder daughters are eight years old now and they’ve only really experienced life in Swansea, and the youngest is a Swansea girl, so the place will always be special to the whole family.
“It’s been a great seven years, a great experience, and I don’t think I’d be leaving for any other opportunity. I’m swapping one black jersey for another but I’ll always be an Ospreylian and Swansea will always be special to me. With three daughters with a Swansea accent, it couldn’t be any other way!”