Início | Notícias | Brian Ashton ao The Telegraph: 'I think we have only scratched the surface of what is possible in rugby coaching'

Brian Ashton ao The Telegraph: 'I think we have only scratched the surface of what is possible in rugby coaching'

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Brian Ashton ao The Telegraph: 'I think we have only scratched the surface of what is possible in rugby coaching'

Brian Ashton is the great lost prophet of English rugby. Even at 71, the man who coached the two of the greatest attacks of the modern era, the all-conquering Bath side of the 1990s and the 2000-2002 England team, still fizzes with ideas and innovations, all captured in his trusty blue lever arch file

“I saw an interview with Bob Dylan after he won the Nobel Prize where he says I am still becoming a songwriter,” Ashton said. “I feel the same. I am still becoming a coach. I still have really good ideas on how to play the game.”

He also remains the last coach to take England to a World Cup final, the ten year anniversary of which is on Friday. And yet all this knowledge and experience has been lost to English rugby. Instead, Ashton focuses his still considerable energy on mentoring young coaches in other sports, primarily in the Manchester United academy.

The contrast with how fiercely New Zealand protect what they term their intellectual property is considerable. When Wayne Smith, with whom Ashton shares a very similar outlook, resigned after two years as New Zealand head coach in 2001, the All Blacks quickly returned him to the fold.


It would be entirely forgivable for Ashton to want nothing more to do with the Rugby Football Union after the disgraceful way in which he was sacked in 2008. Yet sitting in his local pub, the Borough in Lancaster, Ashton holds no grudges. It is a stoicism he inherited from his father who was involved in the D-Day landings. “Like most World War II veterans, they kept a lot to themselves,” Ashton said. “It is very different to today’s culture where everyone wants to talk about everything.”

Ashton has always been a radical. He was even expelled from Lancaster Grammar School after an argument about his missing cricket whites ended up in him storming off never to return. As such an initial foray into banking proved entirely unsuitable.

Instead he found his niche in teaching, which still informs a lot of his coaching principles. His other great influences came from his encounters with Dick Greenwood, Carwyn James and Pierre Villepreux, three of the most progressive thinkers in the sport’s history. They encouraged Ashton to challenge what was and was not possible, which he continually did. At King’s Bruton School in Somerset his side went an entire season without kicking the ball while the Bath team he coached under Jack Rowell pushed the boundaries of what was possible.


Asked about the similarities between that Bath side and the England attack he later coached under Clive Woodward, Ashton says: “It was all in the mindset: we want to be different, we don’t want to play like anyone else.”

Ashton would provide ideas to both groups which they would discuss, challenge, adapt and make their own on the field. “That’s the art of coaching,” Ashton said, although neither team were willing to adopt his most radical suggestion. “The best backs move of all time is a pass that bounces on the floor,” Ashton says. “As soon as that happens, the defence stops and leaves gaps all over the place. But the players all wanted to know who’s going to throw the bum pass?”

Ashton was always far more comfortable as an assistant coach. So when the call from the RFU to replace Andy Robinson in December 2006, Ashton did not immediately accept the offer. He knew the team were in disarray less than ten months out from the World Cup. It was a hospital pass but Ashton felt he could not abandon his country.

Then came the record 36-0 defeat to South Africa in their first World Cup group stage match. The following day, Ashton convened a meeting with his half-backs and centres where they devised a simplified framework which the players presented to the rest of the squad the following day.


“There was an interesting split in the room with some players desperately keen to be told to how to play, what you want us to do in the second, third phase,” Ashton said. “They wanted a far more restrictive gameplan; while I wanted to give them a framework which I would trust them to implement depending on how the game is going.”

Some players have accused Ashton of abdicating responsibility when he was merely trying to get them to assume responsibility they owed to themselves. “A lot of coaching these days is very coach dominated: I’m in charge, I’m in command,” Ashton said. “I just don’t get the logic of that. Once the players cross the white line they are on their own.”

Slowly the squad came together beating Australia in the quarter-finals and then hosts France in the semi-final. Ashton remains convinced that England had the psychological advantage over South Africa, for whom it must have been like seeing Rasputin come back from the dead. But for Mark Cueto’s disallowed try and the concession of what Ashton calls “schoolboy” penalties, they may have even won the whole thing.

England finished second in the following year’s Six Nations. Their tournament concluded an exhilarating 33-10 victory against Ireland spearheaded by fly half Danny Cipriani, who was at the head of a group of bright young things including Dylan Hartley that Ashton had brought through as the RFU’s National Academy Manager. He would never get the chance to work with them finding out he was fired secondhand long before the news was made official.


“I knew they wanted more of a figurehead coach and I knew I was not a figurehead coach,” Ashton said. “I preferred to be a coach from the shadows because I think the most important people in the organisation are the players rather than the coach. Graham Henry at the 2011 World Cup described himself as a resource that the players can use. That’s how I looked at myself.”

Even if there are no formal connections, Ashton has been used as a private sounding board for Stuart Lancaster and Mark McCall among others. Earlier this year, he had a three-hour conversation with Eddie Jones. They mainly discussed their shared passion of cricket, but discovered they had much more in common. Both firmly believe in the value of creating player-led environments that encourage problem-solving and decision-making.

“Eddie mentioned in Argentina about changing the players’ mindset from being recipients to participants,” Ashton said. “That’s exactly it. You want to make the players your coaches on the field.”

Another line Jones has employed about making himself redundant features within Ashton’s blue folder. Actual redundancy from the RFU has given Ashton a new lease of life in his many different projects. “I think in some ways we have only scratched the surface of what is possible,” Ashton said. “I look at it as coaching to infinity and beyond.”

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