Performance Pathway Coach Mark Lilley has had a busy season. As an integral part of player progression through the pathway into the performance environment at Bath Rugby, the 32-year-old has played a crucial role in the success of the younger teams as well as making valuable contributions to the senior set-up.
At the start of the season before Neal Hatley returned to the club as Forward and Defence Coach at the conclusion of the Rugby World Cup, Lilley managed the squad in pre-season and the start of the Gallagher Premiership to build the success of Bath’s scrum. As pre-season got underway, Lilley worked with the players to put new laws into practice and how to approach this aspect of the game. The set piece formed a fundamental basis for the squad over pre-season and has become a key strength of on the pitch.
Before the Gallagher Premiership got underway in October, Director of Rugby Stuart Hooper said: “In planning for pre-season, we knew the set piece was going to be a fundamental part of the game throughout the season.
“Right from day one back in June, the lads have been working on the set piece. Luke (Charteris) with the line-out and Mark (Lilley) with the scrum, they’ve put a huge amount of effort in to not only build in correct training programmes to get the results on the weekend, but also engaging the lads in being part of a dominant pack.”
Since then, Lilley has been a key piece in the development of Bath Rugby’s set-piece platforms, particularly the scrum and maul this season.
The Blue, Black and White are currently second in terms of league wins in the Gallagher Premiership, just one behind first-placed Exeter Chiefs. This is down to the side grinding out results and gaining momentum on the most recent run of games, which has seen wins over Leicester Tigers, Worcester Warriors and Harlequins.
When commenting on Bath Rugby’s aims of building a platform to play from this season, Lilley said: “The set piece was a key area that Hoops (Stuart Hooper) wanted us to develop this season and throughout the Gallagher Premiership campaign.
“Well-executed set piece ball is a key part to becoming a successful side in this very competitive league. Teams need a solid set piece to deliver quality ball for the backs. As a side we feel recent performances reflect that we are building an efficient pack of forwards at Bath Rugby this season.
“This season we have put a lot of time into developing individuals’ technical and tactical understanding within the set piece. Each player has dedicated time within the programme to receive one-to-one coaching and feedback. The individual development we are seeing within the players is having a really positive impact on the collective successes of the pack.
“We have developed some really clear processes for our forwards. As a group we are constantly reviewing what we do and how we can improve as fast as we possibly can.
“The success of a scrum is to have the players working cohesively on the same page as each other. If you get some consistency around this, the scrum can be hard weapon to stop.
“We have spent a lot of time on developing the individuals process within different areas of the scrum – with the set-up, engagement and building pressure. The biggest time is spent around the set-up process - if you don’t get this bit right it’s hard to have an effective engagement or build pressure in a good position in the scrum.
“You then need to put this altogether with both props and the hooker and have a clear plan on how you work together on your own and opposition ball in different scenarios.”
Lilley’s role is split between the scrum and the maul, both in attack and defence and the Pathway Coach has given his insight into the maul and how it functions moving forward.
“A lot of work goes into these specific areas. We work closely with the video analyst to set some clear KPIs within different areas of the set piece to measure within training and games to track our performances.”
The 32-year-old contributed to establishing Club strategies to maximise effective progression of skills, knowledge and behaviours of the most high-potential young players, through both on and off field activities. Lilley has been working closely with individuals this season to enhance their developments at the scrum.
“I am really excited to keep on developing myself as a coach at the Club and putting everything into this Club being successful.”