Friday, December 26, 2014

Interview with Jake Abbott

Jake Abbott stepping the gap.

This Is Texas Rugby talked with Griffins' new arrival Jake Abbott. Jake spent years plying his trade as a loose forward in the professional rugby ranks at Worcester, before accepting an offer to play and coach at Griffins Rugby in Allen, TX. This Spring, Jake will be leading the Griffins from the Loose Forward position as they compete in the Red River Rugby Conference's Division 1.

How did you discover the opportunity with Griffins Rugby?

I was playing rugby with one of Phil Camm's (Griffins' Managing Director) schoolboy rugby friends. When  I left the Warriors, my mate asked if I was interested in a new experience. It was a bit of a heartbreaking moment, but it was time to try something new and experience a culture that my wife and I enjoyed already. So, I flew over to discover what the Griffins were all about.

What about the Griffins caught your eye?

Ambition for the future. Phil is creating a legacy with what he is trying to do. The Griffins are forward-thinking and Elaine's ideas on developing players and coaches are very forward-thinking. (Stateside) rugby is in its younger stages and I like the idea of developing the sport in a growing market like Texas. And I want to be a part of it from the ground floor. It was something I couldn't exactly turn down.

With regard to player development, what are the most important things in your mind?

First, the values of the game must be ingrained. Rugby can be an intensely physical game but it has the written and unwritten rules about discipline to referees and respect to opponents. Even in a pro league for nine years, the value of that is important.

Second, developing a free-flowing game as rugby is an adaptive game with many variables. It's not just the tackle area, but the breakdown, the set pieces, the open field play, and switching between attack and defense with ease.

What you think technical coaching is and how it can be applied here?

The end point is how to create and manipulate in rugby - how to adapt to what's in front of you and bring that to form for athletes that have already done that in other sports. The technical standpoint is difficult to develop in a player who hasn't played rugby. The technical side of coaching is putting that onus on the players to control the game through possession, defensive pressure, etc. Technical coaching also entails understanding how to identify and get to the first stage of a game - instead of jumping ahead to stages 5, 6, & 7 - by laying a foundation.

Technical coaching is also about setting the building blocks within the team and the individuals before launching off into the technical aspects of the game, ensuring the team grows together while learning tactics and figuring out as a team how to win games.

What goals do you for yourself this season?

As a player, I intend to win my games, do well by my team, and do my job right. I want to show my teammates what I'm made of and lead by example on the field.

As a coach, I want to develop under the guidance of Elaine (Vassie, Griffins' Director of Rugby) & Phil. Producing a coaching style that is beneficial to the squad on and off the field.
What are your coaching goals for the team?

First thing is to win. Rugby is a game based on performance. We measure success by getting the individuals to perform and do their job right. I'm working with the forwards at the moment to tighten the scrum and lineout. We should be graded on setting a platform for the backs to attack and on defense at the set piece.

We are also developing individuals and their skills. I want to be approachable to them through their growth in the game.

Who is your ideal coach?

I try to emulate Elaine and what she is bringing to the club. I want to ensure that the message Elaine is bringing to the club is the same that I am bringing. Her strategies and technicals need to be communicated by me in the same way she distributes them.

I learned a lot defensively under the guidance of Phil Larder at Warriors. His attitude toward the sport and his system were enjoyable. Because of his coaching, I get a good buzz from defending.

Editor's Note: Phil Larder was England's Defense Coach during their 2003 RWC Championship run and twice toured as the Defense Coach of the British & Irish Lions. 

Finally, American rugby players have a tendency to go for the "big hit" or look to "truck" a defender when they are carrying the ball. What, in your opinion, is a good way to teach rugby as an evasion game?

Flag rugby in the youth is a great way to teach the evasion and getting the ball into space. Skill drills for the adults where evasion is the goal with positive rewards. It is also more about making skilled passes away from contact to put the ball into space. There are an endless amount of variables to teach in the mindset of evasion, but the simplest ways are best before moving to more technical steps.

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