Fighting the coaches' corner
October 25, 2012
Former Bath coach Sir Ian McGeechan is one of the directors of the RCA © Getty Images
Whenever a player's career is cut short or they encounter an unexpected turn of events off-field, the Rugby Players' Association (RPA) is there to offer them support in whatever manner required. Being a coach is a more lonely and vulnerable existence, until now.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012, will go down as a landmark day in rugby, according to the founder of the Rugby Coaches' Association (RCA), Richard Moon. The sports employment lawyer, who helped established the Rugby Union Players' Association back in 1996 - the precursor to the RPA - and also previously turned out for Cambridge in the Varsity Match, has seen rugby at its coalface having sat on disciplinary panels for the International Rugby Board and the Rugby Football Union and knows the inner workings of the sport better than most.
With the RPA - established by Damian Hopley in 1998 and representing players' needs ever since - expanding and pushing boundaries year on year, player power is growing. But in modern rugby, the buck begins and stops with the coach. Up until now, there were no support networks in place for coaches or an association offering them a collective voice if they are subject of an unfair dismissal, for example.
But then Moon came along. "Over the last couple of years I'd noticed that rugby in particular was going the way of football in terms of the scrutiny of success and rugby in particular had a tendency where if you weren't succeeding then coaches tended to lose their jobs," Moon told ESPN. "I had been involved in advising other sportsmen and coaches in other sports - including athletics and cricket - and thought hang on a minute, the players have their own association and the coaches, who sit very much in the middle, don't seem to have a representative body so I thought it was a good idea."
Prior to setting up the RCA, Moon sought the advice of Richard Bevan, the CEO of the equivalent organisation in football - the League Managers' Association. It was a case of coming out of the meeting and thinking "they did it, we can too". Integral to the formation of the RCA was Professor Dave Collins - former performance director of UK Athletics and a predecessor of the recently departed Charles van Commenee. Moon and Collins originally contemplated setting up an "association for all sporting coaches" and even presented the concept to the Olympic performance director at Eton Dorney. But once they realised the magnitude of the task, they thought it sensible to start with rugby.
"Once the decision was made to focus on rugby, earlier this year I sent an email to Sir Ian [McGeechan], Jimmy Mallinder, Conor O'Shea and Neil Back and contacts I was aware of within the rugby league asking them whether they wanted to be a part of it and whether they felt it had a role to play in the professional world," Moon explained. "The answer was a resounding "yes we do".
"We met earlier this year and it has taken time and a huge amount of effort to put this all together and we are where we are today. I personally think it's a landmark in the evolution of professional rugby in terms of coaching as a profession."
Those coaches he originally contacted will now play an integral role in the development of the association. Moon has turned to Sir Ian McGeechan, Phil Davies, Glenn Delaney and Collins as his directors while Neil Back, Jim Mallinder, Conor O'Shea and Warrington Wolves' Tony Smith will act as ambassadors. The ambassadors' level of involvement will depend on club commitments while the directors will act as the "heart beat of the organisation". According to Moon, they will "determine how it goes forward. A key element of this will be funding and they will go to the stakeholders to seek to get the required funding to get the operation up and running".
While the infrastructure is weighted in favour of the XV form of the game, the inclusion of Warrington's Smith is perhaps the most eye-catching. This is where the truly unique nature of the association lies - it is a cross-code venture. Saracens have formed a partnership with rugby league's Wigan Warriors but such unity between the two codes is rare - this is a challenge that Moon is relishing and for him there are clear similarities in both league and union with the coaches having to work upwards with the board, downwards with the players and sometimes sideways.
"I thought it was an exciting venture to merge the two codes together as after all they are professional rugby coaches. Phil Davies has worked up at Leeds in both codes and worked closely with Gary Hetherington (Leeds Rhino's chief executive) and obviously Sir Ian has worked with Shaun Edwards (former rugby league player and current Wales and London Irish defence coach) as well and I felt that both codes had commonality and similarity and it would also be exciting to bring both of the codes together."
Richard Moon (centre) alongside Robert Norster and Peter Winterbottom at the launch of the RUPA back in 1996 © PA Photos
It will not be an easy task for Moon. The RPA has evolved over the past 14 or so years into its current powerful standing while the RCA is still in the embryonic stages of its development. It's a not-for-profit organisation and Moon is taking on a huge responsibility. But despite the magnitude of what lies ahead for the RCA in terms of funding, establishing a voice and gaining respect, he is adamant that it is all worthwhile.
"I'm getting out of it the fact that I believe I've created something that's absolutely worthwhile for rugby coaches. I'm an employment sports lawyer and I've watched and seen coaches need the type services and help that I can provide. And the association will be there to provide that help."
The RCA will start by focusing on the Aviva Premiership, the Championship, the Super League and coaches in Wales. The board will then determine where the association's future focus will lie with Scotland and Ireland likely to be next in line to be added to their radar of influence.
It is a hugely ambitious project with rugby coaches incorporating both "visibility and accountability" in the modern game. But if all the stakeholders and relevant bodies get behind the organisation then it could become mentioned in the same breath as its illustrious counterparts from rugby and different sports in the future. Moon believes the RCA is a "small acorn, but it can go a long way" and it remains to be seen whether his claims and visions are realised.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.