WHS RUGBY: Something imponderable, but which I would like to ponder nevertheless. It may also be sacrilegious, but I hope the Gods of Rugby will look on kindly.
WHS was famous for and proud of its rugby. We held our own and more often than not defeated the most prestigious schools in East Anglia, despite being in most cases smaller than them. My imponderable is this: Taffy bathed in the light of our rugby success, but how much exactly was that success thanks to him? To put it another way, what might our results have been with other rugby coaches over the years?
The basics of good rugby are not rocket science. Taffy taught us them - and well, but any half-competent coach could have done the same. In essence (and forgive the omissions) these were the basics we learned and trained:
- bind strong and tight and pack low
- shove in unison - as a single unit
- the back row mercilessly harasses the scrum and fly-half
- get to the breakdown in numbers before the opponents
- supply the ball to the threes asap (unless surging forward in unison with the ball)
- line up on the gain line
- mark your man and take no dummies
- tackle low; make sure your target goes to ground
- be ready to run back for grubbers and short kicks over the defensive line
- line up deep
- it’s either a special ploy or get it to the wing as fast as possible
- draw your man and then pass flat and fast for the receiver to run on to
- run into space when you can
- back up the man with the ball
- tackle hard
- fall on the loose ball
- when tackled, make sure you retain the ball and/or slip it to a team player
- BACK UP THE MAN WITH THE BALL
- and not least: get fit so you can get to the ball fast and last the pace
|The thing is, was there something special that Taffy brought which made us so successful, or was that more down to successive generations of talent that would have thrived more or less as well with any decent coach? Taffy had huge kudos and a unique aura where rugby was concerned - and he taught the above well, but is his huge reputation a bit overdone?
PS: Key for me in the answer to the title question are the following:
- The timetable gave us two games afternoons and a regular Saturday match; we got LOTS of practice, and being a boarding-school helped a LOT.
- The boys of the first decade set a high standard which inspired we who followed.
- To be fair, one of Taffy's special contributions was to convince us that we were the best. He had high standards and he made us believe we could and should achieve them. WHS WAS UNIQUE - AND SO WAS TAFFY!
Phil Anthistle: "Do we think it was one man's passion that started a trend for all the school to be enamoured with rugby? Certainly, when I arrived at Woolverstone ('71) rugby was the mainstay of the school. I can remember in our first rugby lesson, where none of the first year had even picked up a rugby ball before, DT had us all pass (more like a lob) the ball in the lesson and when we had all partaken, he announced that someone who could be destined to be a rugby great, has just taken their first step. In its way, that was inspiring. "
Stephen Sullivan: "My Dad, Robin Sullivan, developed his lifelong love of Rugby Union at the school. He played hooker for the Royal Navy, and Wasps 3rd team sometimes when on leave. In later years he watched every match he could on television. He finally got to Twickenham to watch England as a birthday present from his grandson Andrew, for his 75th birthday. Here he is (in the white hat) with the team for HMS Hartland Point."