Former Queensland Reds fullback and Australian Sevens captain, Richard Graham this year took on the Head Coach role at the Western Force in Perth. While the results didn’t always go the way for the Force, the future of rugby in the West certainly looks bright with Graham at the helm. I was lucky enough to talk to Richard about all things rugby!
Name: Richard Graham
Super Rugby Team: Western Force
What are your thoughts on the 2011 Super Rugby season?
A hit on all levels! The new conference system was an outstanding success, the rugby was generally very positive and the Australian rugby public voted with their feet and remote controls. Whilst we can continually improve our product, it is a strong foundation from which to build.
As a former Queensland Reds player, did you enjoy their victory?
Absolutely! Whilst there is fierce rivalry amongst the franchises, I am a strong supporter of Australian rugby. I would much prefer to see one of our franchises succeed and even more so in a RWC year.
Which player impressed you the most throughout the season?
For the Emirates Western Force it was Kieran Longbottom. A local boy who has established himself as a genuine starter at Super Rugby level. He will only get better!
In Super Rugby it was Will Genia. His control of the Reds was magnificent and his ability to stick to the game plan strangled sides.
Which team impressed you the most throughout the season?
Without taking anything away from the Reds, the performance of the Crusaders was full of class. With the natural disasters, home games 2 – 4 hours away, unprecedented travel, unimaginable logistics and huge emotional drains, they were outstanding!
O’Connor is a huge loss to the Force, how are you developing the team to ensure the gap is filled next season?
There has been a lot of talk about James’ exit of our program. James is an outstanding young footballer, however we will move on quickly. It is important we plan and prepare well, control what we can control and play a brand of rugby that suits the Emirates Western Force.
You’ve just recently returned from a trip to South Africa, can we expect to see some news about player signings to the Force?
I was privileged to spend some time with the EP Kings as they look to establish themselves on the South African rugby landscape. They have some incredibly talented youngsters yet have lacked the infrastructure. Alan Solomons (former Stormers coach and Springbok assistant) is working hard to have them ready for Super Rugby in 2013.
In terms of recruitment, watch this space!
The Rugby World Cup is fast approaching, who do you think are the teams to beat in the 2011 Rugby World Cup?
The usual suspects. New Zealand, Australia and England!
What are the Wallabies chances of success this year?
Provided they can keep their best players fit, they will be a huge showing come semi final / final time. RWC’s have traditionally been won by strong defensive sides, however the ‘X factor’ Australia currently boasts will challenge everyone.
Was it an easy transition to go from playing to coaching?
Yes and no. Yes because I went to a completely different environment (Bath Rugby) where they did not know me and I did not know them. I had always wanted to coach and I was fortunate that Michael Foley offered me an opportunity to begin my coaching career at a high level.
No because I loved the camaraderie of playing with your mates. It was hard to give up!
You had many successful years coaching in England (at Bath and Saracens), how does working in the Premiership differ from Super Rugby?
The Premiership rugby is misunderstood by the Australian Rugby public because they don’t see a lot of it. Whilst the rugby philosophies can differ, the vast array of nationalities that play in the Premiership make it unique. The length of the season is much longer than Super Rugby. They also play 22 regular season games in the Premiership plus finals, 6 games in the Heineken Cup plus finals and 4 games in the Anglo Welsh Cup plus finals. There is a lot of rugby!
Super Rugby is more dynamic! The quality of rugby in 2011 was top shelf. Whilst the season is relatively short in comparison, the extended travel makes the Super Rugby season quite draining.
You’ve worked with some amazing coaches like Brian Ashton, John Connolly, Eddie Jones, Robbie Deans and John Mitchell; what would you say is the most important thing you have learnt?
Each of them is so different. I have always had a philosophy on playing and training, however under these coaches you strengthen your beliefs based on working experiences. My work ethic, my relationship with players, the discipline, etc has all been refined from working with people who have coached at an International level.
How/Why did you start playing rugby?
I went to a strong rugby school – Marist College Ashgrove – and began playing in Year 8.
Who is the greatest influence on your career?
It would be my father. Very supportive but never overbearing.
Who was the toughest player you played against?
Daniel Herbert. Incredibly competitive and a big physical man.
What was your favourite stadium to play in?
I have 2 – Newlands in Cape Town and Millennium in Cardiff.
As a coach, which is the toughest team to come up against?
The next one! Each team presents their own threats eg. Reds with outstanding halves, Bulls with strong forwards, etc. Usually the team with a strong team ethic and some outstanding individuals will be the toughest.
What has been your career highlight?
As a player, winning Premierships with Easts (Brisbane) and captaining the Australian 7’s to a number of tournament wins.
As a coach, being part of the Wallabies when we beat the Springboks in Bloemfontein and being selected as Head Coach of the Emirates Western Force.
What has been your biggest disappointment so far?
The draws, 1 point losses and other close losses in Super Rugby this season. The boys worked incredibly hard to deliver consistent performances and I was disappointed for them in 2011.
What are the biggest obstacles facing today’s game?
Growth of the game in juniors and marginalised areas. Perth is a great example of a strong rugby community but not a rugby stronghold. We need to work hard and wisely to ensure we continue to grow our game amongst expansion of the other codes.
Where would you like to see rugby in 10 years time?
When the game went professional, rugby had 14% of the market. When we hosted the RWC in 2003 we had 26% of the market. 2 – 3 years ago we had 14% of the market.
The success of the conference system, the Reds success in 2011, Melbourne’s inclusion and Perth’s continued development will play a big part in returning us to our market share of 2003.
Targeting women will also be a significant area of growth for us also. Whether that be as spectators (we need to make it an event as opposed to just a game) or players (the 7’s gives us the perfect platform).
Feel the Force!