We caught up with former player Ryan Davis to discuss how he’s settling into his new role at the Club, as Bath Rugby’s Academy Pathway Coach.
How do you look back on your playing career with bath rugby?
I don’t think many people knew, but my first ever game was against Quins and I came on at 15 and I was so nervous. When I got the ball, I couldn’t hold on to it, but once I had that game, everything flowed. I had confidence from the other boys and picking me up, because I was only 18 at the time.
The biggest shock is that you go from school (Colston’s) where we were such a strong outfit and not losing for two years. I then remember my first A League game and we were absolutely drilled by 60-70 points. It was an eye-opener because you had to grow up really quickly.
Those first three years before the injuries started to come, I loved every moment of it. I was thrown into the deep end and learnt some big lessons when someone like Mike Tindall is running down your channel for Gloucester. When you played with the likes of (Shaun) Berne, (Olly) Barkley, (Nick) Abendanon and (Matt) Banahan, you had a mixture of people in their prime, young players and then the more senior guys. For me, it was outstanding because you had a good balance.
What did you do after you left Bath Rugby in 2010?
After I left Bath, I joined Exeter and then went on to play for Wasps. I retired in 2013 and went on to get a degree in Business and Leadership Management in 2015/16. From there I did my coaching badges and worked at Cleve RFC for three years, winning promotion in the first year, which was great. I did little bits with the Bath Rugby Academy during that time, and then went out and spent five weeks in Australia with the Queensland Reds and Brisbane Lions, the AFL team to get some experience.
I went from there to New Zealand to Crusaders to meet Joe Maddock and stayed with him for six weeks. He put me in touch with the first team coaches, Tabai (Matson) and Todd (Blackadder) to see how their Academy structure worked, which gave me a real insight and a real platform to build from.
I got in contact with Hoops (Stuart Hooper) when I got back and told him that I was ready which led to meeting Andy Rock and to where I am today.
How much has your playing career helped you in the job that you’re doing now?
It’s been huge – maybe my career went the way it did to facilitate for me being a coach and that’s my honest opinion. I didn’t really fulfil the potential that I had, but I gave it my best go.
I’ve seen the downfalls of coaching youngsters, but I’ve also come across some really good ones too. I think it’s important that you’re very player-led instead of being coach-led, so you give them more exposure to making mistakes, rather than not allowing them to. Also being able to manage relationships – I’ve had some very good relationships and others where I didn’t come out of my shell, because I didn’t know how to communicate with different coaches and other players.
For me, it’s about getting hold of these youngsters and giving them some insight, but allowing them to make mistakes and express themselves. Being approachable but also open to learning from the players is vital, as they’re the ones who are going be shaping the game over the next 10 years.
How does the U18 setup work?
We’ve got about 10-12 schools and we work across two different sites – Chippenham and North Dorset. They’re based anywhere from down in Bournemouth to Swindon to Marlborough and all the way to the edge of Somerset.
Rocky’s (Andy Rock) working really hard to ensure that we get as much contact time with them. When you’re looking at 12 different schools and bringing them together for two training sessions before a campaign, it can be quite difficult. It is a challenge, but the boys are working really hard, as are the coaches.
We have a theme-based approach, so one might be around how we support the ball and make decisions and another might be about winning the ball back in two or three phases. We try and use themes so it’s a more structured learning approach but also so they’re able to understand the bigger picture and not just how to pass to their left in little micros skills. We go a bit bigger and further than that to aid their developement.
Within five or six week blocks, we focus on one area and then challenge them - we won’t necessarily say this is what you’ve got to do. The first three or four weeks might be around how we keep the ball off the floor, move it away from contact or offload and then our games will be about how we can constrain the environment to make them work in those areas or create problems for them to figure out. For example if we flood an area with defenders, how can they offload if there are five or six players around them? The answer is they can’t, they’ve got to figure out how they can adapt. For me, that’s been the mind-blowing thing as I’ve never been taught like this, but that’s how we’re being guided by Rocky, which has been really fulfilling.
What are your hopes moving forward for the players currently in the setup?
Out of the 37 players we’ve got, roughly 10 are U18 and the rest are U17 or U16, so there are quite a lot of younger players. If this programme was all about winning then we’d want all the experienced players, but it’s about development and exposing players to pressures at a young age. When we put U16 players like Orlando Bailey, Frankie Read and Sam Reynolds into an environment where they’re playing U18 rugby, you see a lot. I’ve seen things in players that I know they need to work on, but also things that I’ve gone ‘wow, how are they coping with players that are three years above?’ It also makes players who are 18 on the verge of going to university or getting a contract reflect and work harder. We’re playing the right mixture and whilst the results haven’t been fair (defeats to Bristol and Gloucester), it’s been a good reflection of what we need to work on. However, we had a good result against London Irish on Saturday, which is something we will look to build from moving forwards.
For me it’s about giving the players the best environment to make decisions, explore and be able to learn from their mistakes. We want the players to feel safe to express themselves but at the same time enjoy every moment training and playing for Bath Rugby.
Who are the players that we should be looking out for over the next few years?
We’ve got Tom de Glanville (son of former Bath player Phil) and he’s coming through having played England U18s. He’s shown some real resilience throughout a hard campaign at Beechen Cliff, but for someone who understands the game, he’s well beyond his years. I’m really excited to see where he goes.
You’ve also got Orlando (Bailey), George Worboys and Oli Hobman, so four fly-halves pushing each other and that’s really exciting. On top of that, you’ve got Tom Jeanes, Oli Cattell, both second rows at Beechen Cliff and working really hard together, who over the next few years could push on and get a contract.