Kevin Maggs on the search for new Irish rugby stars

A late starter in rugby union and unaware of available steps to carve out an international career outside the country of his birth, it’s now fitting that Bristol-born Kevin Maggs seeks out players in a similar situation, as part of his current role for the Irish Rugby Union Football Union (IRFU). A sporting all-rounder during […]

Kevin Maggs on the search for new Irish rugby stars

A late starter in rugby union and unaware of available steps to carve out an international career outside the country of his birth, it’s now fitting that Bristol-born Kevin Maggs seeks out players in a similar situation, as part of his current role for the Irish Rugby Union Football Union (IRFU).

A sporting all-rounder during his school days, it wasn’t until attending third-level education as a 17-year-old that Maggs took up rugby.

“On my first day of college, I sat next to a guy who played for the Bristol colts, a team back then like a modern-day academy,” he said.

“He asked me to try out at rugby for the college, I said: ‘Yeah, whatever.’ And his dad, who was also a coach at one of the local teams, was watching. He asked me to come along and play. I was hesitant to go at first, but when I went, I loved it. After about eight games, our team got banned for fighting and then I went playing for the men’s team.”

Enjoying life with local club Bristol, how Maggs came to the attention of the Irish set-up is a tale of both fortune and timing.

“I was never aware of any programme to play for the Ireland under-18s or anything like that,” he said.

“I never considered myself to be at that level, to be honest. After getting into the Bristol first team, I sat down with Ralph Knibbs and he asked me what my aspirations were. I let him know that my grandfather was from Limerick and it went from there. Brian Ashton (then Ireland coach) was over to watch David Corkery against Sale and then I was put on the development tour to New Zealand for five weeks.”

Ireland’s Kevin Maggs. (Photo by Nigel French – PA Images via Getty Images)

Maggs went on to earn his first full international cap in late 1997, coming on as a substitute in a 63-15 reverse against the formidable All Blacks at Lansdowne Road.

“If you saw me running on, I’m white,” he said.

“I was petrified because of the whole occasion and some of the biggest names on the international stage in the New Zealand team. Even before that, I was warming up in my tracksuit and jogged past Jonah Lomu, who wasn’t playing, but on the tour with them and I was like: ‘Oh my God, he’s enormous.’ To say that I was crapping it is an understatement.”

While on the books of Bath, Maggs featured in two Rugby World Cups for Ireland – 1999 and the 2003 tournament held in Australia.

“The 1999 one was meant to be in Wales, but we never even went there,” he said.

“We played in Lansdowne Road and then went to Lens, to play Argentina. The whole trip was a nightmare. I’m not making excuses because we were beaten fairly and squarely, but our travel was disrupted, the food was awful… It was carnage.

“Due to this, we never prepared properly prior to that game and I definitely think all that played a part in our exit. Australia then was an unbelievable experience. The buzz everywhere we went, we had thousands of supporters all out to watch us and cheer us on.

“Our hotel lobbies on match days were just phenomenal. It’s just a pity the way it ended against France, as I think we were a little starstruck. We knew exactly what they were going to do, but we didn’t start playing until the second half, which was too little, too late. We also could have avoided all that if we’d beaten Australia in the pool stages.”

The centre’s club career also took in Ulster (where he won the 2006 Celtic League), a return to Bristol, then Rotherham Titans and Moseley, but ultimately Maggs is best remembered for his long-standing partnership in the middle for Ireland with Brian O’Driscoll.

“Brian had all the subtlety and skills, but it was just a good combination we had,” he said.

“We could read each other well and keep the opposition guessing what we were doing. It was a pleasure to play alongside him and be a part of that group.”

Back to the present and Maggs is in the unique position as the IRFU’s IQ rugby regional talent ID coach, enabling those based in the UK to pursue ambitions of representing Ireland, just as he has.

“My job is to identify, develop and support Irish-qualified rugby players, if they have the ability and potential to go further,” he said.

“In lots of ways, I’m looking for similar players to myself. If they’re good enough to play in the underage pathway and hopefully go on to pull on the green jersey… that would be the ideal scenario. We’ve had around 16 players in the under-18s and some of those lads have moved to Ireland, to play for the provinces, which is a testament to them.

“The provinces have really helped us by taking in this exiled talent, who could just as easily be in Australia or wherever and not be aware of the opportunities and possibilities of maybe later representing Ireland.”

Source : The Roar More   

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Will the Waratahs taste Super Rugby success in 2021?

It’s been a tough couple of years for the NSW Waratahs. The team performed poorly under coach Darryl Gibson, who left in 2019 after an underwhelming couple of years with the former All Black at the helm. Late 2019 saw a host of proven Test players leave the Waratahs in search of lucrative contracts overseas. […]

Will the Waratahs taste Super Rugby success in 2021?

It’s been a tough couple of years for the NSW Waratahs.

The team performed poorly under coach Darryl Gibson, who left in 2019 after an underwhelming couple of years with the former All Black at the helm.

Late 2019 saw a host of proven Test players leave the Waratahs in search of lucrative contracts overseas. Among the departures were Sekope Kepu, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tolu Latu, Curtis Rona, Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps.

The 2020 season brought a new coach and fresh philosophy in the shape of wily Cantabrian Rob Penney. Penney promised new attacking plays and improved defensive structures, in the hope of better performances.

The Waratahs missed a place in the 2020 Super Rugby Australia playoffs, but not by much. At Test level, loosehead prop Angus Bell won his first Wallabies cap at the tender age of just 20, Jake Gordon received a Wallabies re-call, while Ned Hanigan answered his critics with some of his best performances in a Wallabies jersey.

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Who’s departed?
One of the biggest challenges for the Waratahs is their inability to hold on to playing talent. The squad is routinely drained and restocked on an annual basis. Player continuity within teams is the bedrock of skills development, good communication and synergy. Unless the Waratahs management can address this issue, their ability to challenge for silverware will continue to be thwarted.

If 2020 was the year of losing the Test-level stalwarts, then 2021 is the year of losing a host of reliable Super Rugby squad members. Losses include Kurtley Beale, Karmichael Hunt, Mitch Short, Ned Hanigan, Cam Clark, Michael Hooper, Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth, Ryan McCauley, Jed Holloway and Pat Tafa. The great Australian second-row drain continues.

Rob Simmons. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

The Waratahs have been stripped of up to 20 players from their 2020 roster. In contrast, the Brumbies have lost just three senior players – Tevita Kuridrani, Lachie McCaffrey and Joe Powell – with only McCaffrey heading overseas. The Reds’ squad appears to be largely unchanged, plus they have the addition of exciting NRL recruit Suliasi Vunivalu.

New blood
Rob Penney has assembled an eclectic bunch of forward recruits including Jack Whetton, Sam Wykes and Sam Caird.

Whetton, aged 28, has been a something of a rugby globetrotter, playing for the likes of Leicester and Leeds in England and the Highlanders in Super Rugby. Whetton, who is a competent lineout operator, has the potential to be a vital player for the Waratahs.

Former Western Force stalwart Sam Wykes is another recruit. Wykes joins after a sojourn with the defunct Sunwolves franchise and hopefully can bring some much-needed experience to the Waratahs’ pack.

The 24-year-old Northland and former junior All Blacks second rower Sam Caird is an intriguing recruit. The athletic second rower was a member of the Blues’ Super Rugby squad in 2020 but didn’t make his debut.

At 202 centimetres and 116 kilos, Caird has the physical presence required for Super Rugby. With a good work rate in defence and agile skills in the lineout, Sam Caird should be a regular starter for the Waratahs in 2021.

In the backs, exciting Eastwood pivot Tane Edmed has joined the Waratahs after a standout Shute Shield campaign in 2020. His battle with Ben Donaldson to be Will Harrison’s understudy should be an interesting one.

The big news is that former Reds protégé Izaia Perese has signed with the Waratahs. A one-time Wallabies tourist, Perese left the Reds in late 2018 for a shot at NRL glory with the Brisbane Broncos. Perese had a troubled time during his brief NRL career before signing for French Top 14 club Bayonne in mid-2020. Hopefully Perese, who is still just 23, can get his career back on track.

Emerging talent
For some of the existing Waratahs players, 2021 is an opportunity to hit their straps and push for Wallabies selection. Hooker Tom Horton had an excellent debut season in 2020. He’s a hooker with good core skills and is useful in the loose.

Harry Johnson-Holmes struggled after swapping sides of the scrum from loosehead prop. Hopefully the off-season has been an opportunity for him to hone the dark arts of tighthead play, with improved scrummaging skills and physicality in the tight exchanges.

Harry Johnson-Holmes runs with the ball

Harry Johnson-Holmes. (Photo: Toshifumi Kitamura/Getty Images)

Will Harris is a rangy back rower with size and strength. He has been compared to legendary Wallabies number eight Tim Gavin. This could be the year Will Harris features regularly for the Waratahs and shows some fulfilment of his prodigious promise.

Lachie Swinton had an excellent 2020, capped with his first Wallabies start and also his first red card at Test level. Swinton is an old-style blindside flanker who thrives in the physical exchanges and defensive battles.

However, Swinton needs to make his tackles consistently lower and take more responsibility for ball carrying. Swinton has the potential to be the Wallabies’ first choice number six if he can nurture his strengths and eliminate the high shots.

Much responsibility for the Waratahs’ performances will be on the shoulders of flyhalf Will Harrison. While he brings good hands and brilliant goal kicking, his game management will be crucial if the Waratahs are to thrive in attack.

Big things will be expected from former gymnast turned winger James Ramm and Gordon centre Joey Walton, standout rookies in 2020 who brought added skill and invention to the Waratahs’ back line.

Challenges
The biggest concerns for the freshly minted 2021 version of the Waratahs is a lack of experience in the player stocks. The current squad contains just eight Test players. In contrast, the 2019 squad boasted no fewer than 16 Wallabies.

Players with more than a few years of regular Super Rugby experience are few and far between. Besides those capped for the Wallabies, there is Alex Newsome, Lalaki Foketi, Perese, Hugh Sinclair, Wykes and Robbie Abel, hardly a cadre of household names.

Waratahs coach Rob Penney is seen during the warm-up

Rob Penney has an inexperienced squad to work with in 2021. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Hopefully, a reservoir of untapped talent emerges from the Gen Blue graduates, and last year’s rookies can kick on. But if the Waratahs have a bad run of injuries, then their lack of big-match experience could be exposed.

Summary
A coach’s first season in charge can usually be put down to experience. He inherits a squad not entirely of his own choosing. The players are learning a new playbook, while building trust and rapport takes time.

After the latest player clear-out, this is a squad of Rob Penney’s own making and hopefully he can mould them according to his own rugby vision and unearth some future stars.

However, the group appears to be short on experience and proven big-match temperament. For the sake of long-suffering Waratahs fans, I hope I’m proved wrong, but I suspect that both the Brumbies and the Reds will have too much class for the Waratahs to seriously challenge for Super Rugby honours in 2021.

First XV
15. Jack Maddocks, 14. James Ramm, 13. Izaia Perese, 12. Joey Walton, 11. Mark Nawaqanitawase, 10. Will Harrison, 9. Jake Gordon, 1. Angus Bell, 2. Tom Horton, 3. Harry Johnson-Holmes, 4. Jack Whetton, 5. Sam Caird, 6. Lachie Swinton, 7. Carlo Tizzano, 8. Jack Dempsey.

Source : The Roar More   

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