As the preseason training picks up again, we decided to catch up with new head coach Gavin Jones to find out more about him.
Willenhall - So Gav, tell us a bit about your background in rugby.
Gavin - I’ve been a player for over 33 years starting out as an under 7 myself and playing through all the age groups through to seniors. I was also fortunate enough to have Staffordshire representations from under 13s through to colts. As most will know my playing was mostly done at Walsall Rugby Club, though I have had spells at Old Halesonians and Willenhall in the past. I’ve also had a couple of seasons playing rugby league running out for Wolverhampton and Birmingham Bulldogs. Most of my playing career was out on the wing, but as I’ve got older, slower and bigger I’ve played more in the centres with a few cameos at fly half and full back.
Willenhall - You mentioned you’ve been at Willenhall before.
Gavin - Yeah, it’s been a while, but as mentioned I had a couple of seasons with Willenhall about 18/19 years ago. Seems like a lifetime ago but I was fortunate enough to play with some great lads, some of which I have remained friends with over the years and have enjoyed playing against at times. Some may have played with or know my younger brother Andy Jones (Pigeon) who played his rugby at Willenhall and is infamous for the Paignton tour..............
Willenhall - Sounds like that might be a talking point for the bar. You obviously have some links to the club already. How did the opportunity to rejoin the club in a different capacity come about?
Gavin - It was actually a friend from Willenhall RFC who I had played rugby with back in the day, Lee Walton. I say friend, but I use that term loosely as the first time we played against each other he greeted me with a swift elbow to the face. Lee actually got in touch with me after I had posted a message on Facebook that I was looking to find a club to coach at. He gave me the heads up that Willenhall were looking for a coach and put me in contact with Mark Mckenzie.
Willenhall - Having spent a long time at Walsall, what were the deciding factors in going for the position at Willenhall?
Gavin - There were a couple of options for me to look at to develop my senior coaching, but I had a long chat with Mark Mckenzie about the club, how it is going through quite a transitional period and everything I heard was extremely positive. From a playing perspective, I had a good chat with Lee Walton who again was extremely positive about the club and the players available. So when I was offered the opportunity to come along and do a guest coaching session I had to give it a go. I have to say, it was that evening that totally swayed it for me. I turned up, set up my working zones and whilst players were turning up I took the opportunity to have a good chat with Eric Field, who had been coach when I was playing down at Willenhall. This was another deciding factor. Obviously I’ve known Eric for many years from playing and also from coaching where our paths have crossed when I have been on courses that Eric has led or when attending training days with England Rugby (who I do some work for as an All Schools coach). The welcome Eric gave me and the offer of support/mentorship pretty much made my mind up there and then. However, from a playing perspective everything I saw from that point on impressed me. I was impressed with how whilst I was away chatting with Eric, the lads grabbed a ball and off they went, unprompted into a game of touch. As simple as that was, I liked this, taking the initiative and just getting on with it rather than standing about throwing a ball around in a circle……..a good start.
Willenhall - Hopefully it was “start as you mean to go on”?
Gavin - That’s right. Consistently throughout the session I was thoroughly impressed with the levels of energy and enthusiasm. The lads responded well to everything we did and the whole session had a really good vibe about it.
Following the session, I had a meeting with the Senior Playing Committee and everything I heard got me genuinely excited about where the club are going. So, a couple of days later when I was offered the position of Head Coach, I accepted and now very much look forward to working with the Willenhall players.
Willenhall - Do you have any aspirations as a coach?
Gavin - From a personal perspective, I want to develop and improve as a coach. I’m currently a Level 2 coach, but I do want to work towards my Level 3 in the future. Hopefully, coaching the Willenhall senior players will give me the opportunity to do this, where I can develop myself, but also develop the group of players I will be working with.
Willenhall - Coaches tend to have a practice or mentality they try to embed in players. Do you have a motto or mantra that you stand by and want players to think about?
Gavin - I forget where I found this quote, but it’s one I refer to:
-Better coaches help to encourage and nurture better players!
-Better players lead to improved performance!
-Better performance ultimately will lead to better results!
However, I wouldn’t say I am a results driven coach. Obviously, when players step on to a rugby pitch they do so wanting to win. But ultimately, to become better players you need to train and work hard on areas you need/want to improve on. My ethos is very much about creating an environment where players WANT to train. It doesn’t matter whether you are a child or senior player, you play because essentially you enjoy the game of rugby, so training needs to be fun, but purposeful. Hopefully, the results will come as a product of players enjoying what they are doing.
Willenhall - What do you think are the core values that you want the first team squad to adopt this season?
Gavin - Simple, ALL of them. I am a strong believer in all the rugby core values of Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship. Whether a mini and junior player or a senior player I believe these core values should be a big part of everyone’s game. Honestly, I wouldn’t single out a single one as taking priority and all form a big part of the way that I coach and would expect from players.
Willenhall - You clearly have high demands. With this in mind, what are your goals for the seniors?
Gavin - Short term, I want to help the club build on what they are already doing with the players and the club. I want to bring the players closer together and really develop as a team. I am an ambitious person and as I’m sure the players do, I want us to really push and do all we can to gain promotion.
Willenhall - Willenhall is a proud club but, as you are aware, last season was very difficult and a real setback for the senior squad. What do you think the coaching team and the squad needs to do to rectify things and gain promotion at the earliest opportunity?
Gavin - I’m still learning where things may have gone wrong previously. It is obvious to me that Willenhall has a pool of players that are passionate about their rugby and are no doubt hurting about dropping down a league. We need to use that this season. As I’ve already said, vital to the team seeking to get promoted we need to have good numbers training. If we get the numbers and work hard on all aspects of the game, particularly the basics, I see no reason why the club can’t put up a real strong case for promotion. I very much intend on working on the basics and developing those in to game play. One of my big focusses this season will be the link up play between forwards and backs., making sure there is a clear line of communication and understanding of roles/responsibilities.
Willenhall - So, onto the more serious matters now - Paintballing. Do you have any first impressions of the squad?
Gavin - The paint balling was a great opportunity to meet some of the lads and in a different environment. Though when they are all wearing the same camo suits and face masks, it was difficult to see who was doing what! That said, physically, there were a couple of players who were unmistakable (Mini and Jamie for obvious reasons ?)
Willenhall - Yip. Not sure how Mini got himself on the jaunt as the littl’uns haven’t started back training yet (Michelle will be able to help him on that one ? ). But carry on.
Gavin - I’ve heard good things about Adam Cooper as a young full back. However, I’m still trying to work out whether he was just extremely fast and elusive (as he only got hit once in the first 3 games) or whether he was hiding somewhere! He was the only person with half a hopper of paint balls at the end!
Willenhall - Hiding when there’s work to be done? Probably about right.
Gavin - What the evening did show me though was that there is a cracking bunch of lads at the club and a good mix of youth and experience. The banter was flowing and there was a real sense of camaraderie, things that are vital in a team environment. Hopefully we can continue to build on this and have a fantastic season ahead of us.
Willenhall - Cheers Gav. I’m sure it will be a good ‘un.
Remember, Seniors training has already started with superb numbers keen to put their hand up for a shirt to get the club back where it belongs.
EVERY TUESDAY AND THURSDAY - 7PM START
Updated 13:34 - 7 Jul 2018 by Mark Austin