Stuart Lancaster, Leo Cullen and Dean Richards were all among those dishing out the advice as up-and-coming coaches from the rugby world congregated for the 16th annual Guinness Six Nations coaching development conference.
Delivering a series of seminars on topics as wide-ranging as the importance of youth development, to Rugby World Cup predictions, the hardened pros looked to pass on their best advice in addition to activities and Q&As across the conference.
Unsurprisingly, what with some of the brightest and best descending on the French town of Bergerac, there was plenty to glean – here are five of the standout talking points.
Wales’ triumphs built on defence
Game Analysis Consultant at World Rugby, few know better the minutiae of the game than Corris Thomas, and he believes that Wales had a rock-solid structure to thank for their Grand Slam success this year.
“The clear thing from the Guinness Six Nations this year, if we’re looking at the various teams, was that Wales had a hugely defensive mode of play, which was very successful, and they never lost a game,” he said.
“England played a different sort of game to Wales, scored two-and-a-half times more tries than Wales, from all over the place. Wales didn’t manage that, but they didn’t lose a game, and that’s what makes life so interesting.
“Ireland had their own game, but they always had more possession than their opponents, gave away fewer penalties and that characterises their way of playing rugby now.”
Club vs country
Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards is well acquainted with the difficulties of surviving without his international players during the season, but he says that attempting to stand in their way is a fool’s errand.
“I spent my whole career understanding the player and making it work. If you give them the opportunity to play to the highest level, then they’ll fight for you,” he explained.
“Every player in my team, I have said that I’ll help them play international rugby if they’re capable, further your cause, develop you as much as I can.
“For me, the key to having the culture at my players and getting the best out of my players is to allow them to play at the highest-level time and time again, and the competitive edge comes out again if you dangle that carrot in front of them.
“If you tell that you’ll help them try and play international rugby, they’ll play as hard as they can time and again.”
Leinster head coach and former Ireland man Leo Cullen has recently led his side to consecutive Guinness PRO14 titles, but he still benefits from the sharing of ideas.
“The interaction with the other nationalities, trying to understand, as young coaches and leaders, that there are many different ways to solve the same problem,” he said.
“I was on this course four years ago, so I understand the interaction. To come back four years later and take some of the learnings that I’ve had and to try and share them here, and also try and learn from some of the other speakers and all of the other people on the course, it has been a great experience.”
Failure key to learning
Stuart Lancaster, now a member of Cullen’s coaching team at Leinster, led England to 16 wins in 20 matches at Rugby’s Greatest Championship during his time as head coach of the Red Rose, but is aware that you will gain nothing as a coach without a few setbacks.
“You learn as much from failure as you do from success, and I’m yet to meet a coach who has never had any failure,” he said.
“It’s making sure I can share what I’ve learned to help them become better. I came on this course in 2005 as a young coach and it was without doubt one of the influential two or three days of my career.”
Ireland the blue print against the All Blacks
And, with the Rugby World Cup on the horizon, Thomas believes that New Zealand are the team to beat, but that others should follow in Ireland’s footsteps if they are to have a chance at doing so.
“The challenge has got to be to beat New Zealand,” he said.
“New Zealand have only lost four games in the last four years, they have an astonishing record.
“They’ve been the number one team for the last 15 years, so you have to find a way of playing them. They have a very defined, characteristic way of doing it.
“They score from all parts of the pitch, all sorts of possession. The only way you can beat New Zealand is if you can force them away from their chosen path, to play a different game of rugby, the sort that they’re not used to playing.
“When Ireland beat them twice, it was pretty clear that New Zealand were not able to play their normal game, because Ireland made it very difficult for them.”