Looking through the results of various teams, as I tried to decide who to focus on in the last week of term, I found myself drawn to the under-15A rugby team. One or two coaches have approached me of late, keen for their charges to be featured in this column. I have had to gently tell Mr Moyes that this column generally focuses on success but I found it harder to ignore Mr Parsons, Mr Cowper and Mr Percival; especially when they barred my exit from the Common Room, firmly shut the door and locked it. You should also know that this article was written in close proximity to them and that they have had ‘editorial’ freedom to correct anything they deemed not in keeping with the ethos and philosophy of the under-15A coaching staff manual.
Mr Parsons and Mr Cowper are known by some as Laurel and Hardy which is quite an accurate comparison although I always thought that Hardy was taller! As our current Head of Drama, I am sure that Brian Parsons would not mind being compared to a screen icon. If drama is one love of his life, rugby is the other and he explained to me how these two passions of his are linked. Brian was always in charge of props in his youth drama group and when his dad took him to the local rugby club, the coach said he needed a prop and Brian was the first person to put up his hand. But seriously, after appearing on ‘Prop Idol’ hosted by Gareth Chilcott, Brian began playing rugby semi-professionally for Gosport and Fareham and then Hull RUFC. He told me in those days it was £40 cash stuffed in a brown envelope. I tried to find a match report from those good old days but instead discovered that Brian Parsons is in fact still playing as full back for Sedgley Tigers. Brian has also coached rugby in America at USC (University of Southern California) and is sadly returning to the States at the end of this year to take up another dramatic position at Oklahoma University. Brian admitted to me that he will miss coaching the under-15A squad perhaps more than anything at Shrewsbury. He feels that he has helped revolutionise their way of play by instilling method acting as part of the training schedule. “I tell the lads to get inside the heads of the current England team and replicate their moves on the pitch; it seems to be working, although Loughborough Grammar had a couple of French lads and that seemed to unsettle us.” I wondered if this might be confusing for the players, as I believe that Colonel Nick Jenkins who coached the side last year had a similar approach but with the Welsh team in mind. “There is room for both Welsh and English methods of play but probably not the Scots,” Brian told me.
Stuart Cowper was a big-hearted small-statured scrum half at Lancaster Royal Grammar School. He then went on to play for Christleton near Chester and he was transferred for a very small sum to the Galician League to play for Mareantes in Pontevedra. I cannot tell you much about Mareantes as their websites are all in Spanish; now I realise why Spanish teachers like Mr Cowper are so useful! He found rugby in Spain a little backward which is possibly why he coaches the backs, but he is described by his players as ‘forward thinking’. Stuart was keen to tell me that he felt he had successfully coached the Welsh flair out of the team and had instilled a duller brand of the game, but a brand which enabled the team to win. Stuart told me in confidence that he would prefer to be coaching, watching and playing Rugby League.
Toby Percival is the third member of the coaching trinity. Toby was educated at Loughborough Grammar School, which is one of only two teams to have beaten our talented squad of players. I see a slightly smug grin when Toby tells me this and I wonder if there was any form of communication between Toby and his previous school before the game... On further investigation and with help from some technically gifted IT experts in School House I have uncovered this email: “Hi Mike (the coach of the opposition is Mike Broadley), have done my best to weaken the Shrewsbury team at our selection meeting. You should have a chance now! Thanks for the loan of your house in the Bahamas, Toby.”
Loughborough aside, Toby is immensely proud of his team’s feats. He regards himself as the squad statistician and told me that the team have scored 379 points over the season and conceded only 93, giving them a healthy balance of 286 which could be a school record. Toby also regards himself as the team’s motivational coach and admits “I look good in lycra”. I asked him what he regarded as the most motivational speech the lads had received. “Anything with the words coke and pizza in seems to do the trick!” As a Classics teacher he also found great strength from the ancient thinkers. "I like to tell the lads to ‘pass it on a Plato each other’, ‘Caesar the moment’, ‘Euripides when tackling’!" ('You rippa de knees' - for those struggling to work that one out. Possibly Giles' worst joke of the term. Ed)
The team had a great grounding in Welsh tactics last year from young Colonel Nick Jenkins, who has now become Director of rugby and all things Old Salopian. Nick’s visionary coaching manual involved watching matches from the 1970s involving the mystical sidesteps of Barry John. He claimed that captain Cameron Bates glided around the ‘park’ in a similar fashion to JPR Williams and that Welsh winger Ed Plaut was as electric as Gerald Davies. Happy 105th Birthday Nick!
All the coaches I spoke to were quick to praise Captain Cameron Bates for his leadership and skill on the field. Not everyone was happy with the coaching staff. Ed Plaut claimed he had been dropped for supporting Wales! He was also thinking of going to see the Children's Liaison Officer after he was forced to re-enact England tries. Ed was however happy that he was brought back into the team to score twice against Repton in a 55-10 victory. Cameron thought his favourite match was a hard fought 24-24 draw with Old Swinford Hospital, although he also enjoyed the 67-0 demolition of Wolverhampton Grammar.
I caught up with the team during the under-15 House Sevens tournament and it was clear from the rugby being played that there were plenty of talented individuals. Rory Fergusson told me he enjoyed rugby nearly as much as RS, and Kwaku Antwi is clearly developing into a fearsome forward - although I was told he could do with adding a third daily chicken to his diet. Most improved player of the year was a closely guarded secret, but Nifemi Okusanya, pictured here showing off his guns, was the people’s and coaches’ choice.
It is a shame for the team that having reached the final of the County Cup, they will not be able to play it as if falls in the holidays and many of our players will be elsewhere. Still, given what I have seen, I am putting it down as a win. What a bunch of champions!
The full U15A squad are:
Oliver Dixon (Vice-Capt)
Cameron Bates (Capt)