Robinson relishing new challenge
March 1, 2009
Robinson has resisted several offers to come out of retirement since hanging up his boots © Getty Images
The dazzling-quick feet of Jason Robinson rarely failed to light up the action during a glittering 17-year playing career spanning both codes of the game and he is determined to have a similar impact as a coach.
New Sale director of rugby Kingsley Jones completed a notable coup this week by luring Robinson, nicknamed Billy Whizz, out of retirement to join his new-look coaching line-up from next season.
Robinson walked away from the game after the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final declaring that he would not miss the training, travelling or playing. Since hanging his boots up he has repeatedly insisted he was more than happy in retirement, even turning down lucrative offers to reverse his decision.
But he is set to make a sensational return to the game as the Sharks' head coach after being lured back to the front line by his close friend Jones.
"I must admit I did say just over a year ago that I would never go into coaching," Robinson told Scrum.com. "It's not something that has been a goal of mine or something I've wanted to do other than at a grassroots level. But over the last 12 months I've wanted to get back into something."
Robinson, who scored 30 tries in 51 appearances for England, also revealed that his faith continues to play a key role in his life and in his choices. "With most decisions I make, I pray about it and ask God to lead me where I want to go. And it seems every time I say I won't do something I end up doing it. I said I wouldn't come and play rugby union but in 2000 I moved into rugby union, and I had seven great years.
"This time, out of the blue Philippe [Saint-Andre] says he is leaving to go to Toulon, Kingsley comes to me and says look, we want you to be part of the coaching team. I really didn't see it coming myself. I had been talking to Sale but that was more about an ambassador role, so when he came to me I just knew it would be the right thing to do and I'm just looking forward to getting back into it full time.
"Had it been another club I doubt very much that I would have taken it on. I'm going into an environment that I'm familiar with, obviously there's respect there from the players having been there and captained the side and it just all fits in nicely."
Robinson, twice a tourist with the British & Irish Lions, admits he is a complete novice when it comes to coaching but insists that he has a wealth of experience to draw on as he prepares for a return to Edgeley Park.
"I've had a great career in both league and union, almost 17 years of great experiences, and played on the biggest stages all around the world, played with and against the best players, in both codes, I've gained a lot of experience, I know it's going to be tough, I've got a lot of work to do having not coached at this level before but that is what I am challenged by.
"Kingsley's already mentioned there's attributes I've got that most people will never have. I've got an insight that most people will never get - I have played in three World Cup finals, I've won one of them, I've been on three Lions tours, I've won more things, big games than most that have played the game."
For what he may lack in coaching prowess, Robinson is confident he will make up for with experience to offer guidance both on and off the field.
"There's got to be some things I've picked up along the way that I can use and help the guys at Sale with and not just on the field," explained the former England captain. "For the last 14 years I believe I've been able to conduct myself in a positive way. For guys in the professional environment it's not just about what they can do on the field, it's about how they conduct themselves off the field. If somebody can point you in the right direction then that is going to help. I've been through a lot of things myself and if I can help guys deal with the pressure of professional sport then that can only be good thing."
But make no mistake, he is not returning to the game as a life coach. "I'm hoping it will be the full package - if you do one without the other you're missing out on a big area of concern. I've seen so many players over the years with so much talent but because of their attitude and the lack of someone alongside them to help them out, they haven't fulfilled the potential they've got and to me that is a crime."
As a player he has worked with some of the most respected coaches in both codes including Rugby World Cup winner Sir Clive Woodward and Phil Larder who worked with him in league and union.
"I've had the pleasure of working under some great coaches over the years, I'm using my time at the moment to speak to various people and get their thoughts and ideas and just build up exactly what I want when I start in the job with the intention of being as prepared as I can but at the same time there is no miracle things you can do.
"I'm going to approach this just as I did when I first came into rugby union. I'm going to be honest and open and say yes I need to learn. There are areas I need to improve on, areas I need to work hard on, and I'm going to do all I can to the best of my ability and that is one thing that will never change. If down the line it's not working, then so be it but it certainly won't be for a lack of effort. When I do put my hand to something, second best is certainly not an option for me."
The Sharks, currently riding high in the Guinness Premiership, face a testing few months with the pending departure of director of rugby Saint-Andre and several big names set to follow New Zealander Luke McAlister out the exit door at the end of the season. However, Robinson is confident that the club are well placed to ensure a smooth transition.
"It does cause disruption when players leave, when the director of rugby leaves," said Robinson. "Philippe was great and did a great job for Sale Sharks - there's no doubt abut that. It is always hard to bring new people in to take the club forward, but with myself and Phil Keith-Roach [newly recruited forwards coach] and Jos Baxendale [backs coach] already in there these are exciting times.
"Sale are in a great position and hopefully we can continue to build. One of the main things I wanted to do when I joined the club was to help the club move on in all areas and just looking at how the club has developed since 2000 is a fantastic and something I was grateful to be involved with. But now I'm coming at it from a different angle but I still want success for the club."
Robinson may not be pulling on his boots again - unless there is some more divine intervention - but his return to Sale is a significant boost for their aspirations. Don't expect his twinkle-toes to tread lightly as he strives to build a reputation as a coach that matches that which he carved out as one of the greatest attacking players the game has ever seen.
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