Following a successful tour of duty with the touring South African Springboks during the 2010 Autumn Series, Dan Owens from the Ospreys Community Rugby team spent a week undercover with another touring party last month.
The WRU played host to the Los Pumas of Argentina last week as part of both countries Rugby World Cup 2011 preparations, and extended an invitation to Dan to once again act as Liaison Officer to the Pumas, where he worked alongside Baggage Master Mal Jones, Player Development Officer for Cardiff Blues North, and Ambassador on behalf of the WRU, Mr Martin Davies, WRU Board Member with Special Responsibility for Financial Affairs.
Owens linked up with the Pumas upon their arrival at Heathrow Airport last Monday, and along with his two colleagues was then responsible for handling the logistics of the team, ensuring that players, management and equipment were where they needed to be, when they needed to be there. The liaison team were at the Pumas disposal 24/7, also providing logistical support for medical emergencies.
With Cardiff’s Hilton Hotel acting as the Pumas base, the team used the facilities at University of Glamorgan Playing Fields for their field based and power gym sessions, with additional gym and wet weather sessions taking place at Cardiff University Sports Village, Talybont.
As was the case during his experience with the ‘Boks last year, Owens’ key observation of life with an international touring squad was that the maintenance of moral and team culture is paramount. The full squad ate together at every meal-time, traveling and training together with the exception of the final squad runs following the team announcement.
Match day saw Dan and his colleagues on the liaison teams take responsibility for all team requirements at the Millennium Stadium. This included assisting with dressing of the changing room, ensuring that drinks, meals, elevators etc were available at the appropriate times.
Looking back at the experience, Dan reflected:
“This week has been another great privilege for me. During the Boks liaison role, I built a great working relationship with Mal Jones, and was glad to be working with him once again. He is a true professional, and throughout the week we were able to bounce ideas off each other, with both of us willing to cover the others role to provide a solution.
“As for the Argentineans, it was great to be involved with a team that have such passion for rugby. The South American culture is vastly different to that of Europe, and it was really good for me to both experience and thrive within it. It did not come without its challenges though – eating a full five star meal at 9pm before bed is not easy!
“The pressures that come with operating a high performance team are incredible. Where possible, every detail has to be considered and even with unforeseen circumstances you have to ensure for the athlete, there is no change. A gulf away from my desk at Llandarcy and the pressures I deal with there in my role as a Coach Development Officer, I was glad that I was able to provide the Pumas with everything they required to make their stay as comfortable and productive as possible.
“Kitted out head to toe in Union Argentina de Rugby clothing, we were instantly welcomed and embraced into the group. I have very fond memories of very quickly engaging in banter with the players as I bore a resemblance to their scrum half Alfredo Lalanne – thanks to Fernandez Lobbe, I was christened “Alfie” – I’m not sure how many of the players actually knew my name?
“As for rugby coaching, it was great for me to observe once again that nothing across the rugby world is really different. The practices I observed Argentina do are no different to those that I would use myself or recommend to others. The only difference is the standard of player, obviously with international rugby players being bigger, faster and stronger. Games for understanding and conditioned games played a big part in their preparation, something that I am a big believer in. What intrigued me was the pre-match preparation. Not a word was spoken from the moment we left the hotel, travelling in complete silence with each player mentally focussing them self until the warm up began, about 45 minutes prior to kick off.
“I’ll take from this experience a greater understanding of the high performance rugby environment, including conditioning, rugby and lifestyle – in particular what it takes to prepare an athlete for a test match. Culturally, South America is a place I would love to visit and personally, I now have a desire to learn Espanol. From a professional point of view, I am pleased that I am building a reputation for not only myself but the Ospreys region in that we pride ourselves on giving 100% and achieving results regardless of the circumstance.”