FRANK Hadden shared his trials in striving to create a successful Scotland team at the end of a 36-year career in coaching, and insisted that a lack of confidence was the key issue.
Napier University, which has developed some of Scotland’s leading sports facilities, hosted a ‘Rugby Debate’ last night where Hadden spoke about his own memories of coaching Scotland, former Scotland player Rory Lamont presented well on the continued ignorance of concussion in the sport and SRU vice-president Ian Rankin provided a union view on how the game is being developed.
Hadden took the audience of around 100 through his career as national coach. He spoke of his attempts to uncover success with Scotland through building confidence in the wake of disappointments under his predecessor, Matt Williams. Hadden tried to bring a new style of attacking width, building the physique of the team ahead of the 2007 World Cup and latterly trying, and failing, with the “Clive Woodward method” of appointing a 19-strong management team which, he stated, resulted in a complete loss of control and trust.
The big issue in Scotland, however, he said, was a lack of belief that Scottish teams were capable of winning, which he witnessed even in the line-up of the respective sides before anthems at Murrayfield.
He insisted: “The first thing I addressed when I took over in 2005 was confidence. It is a big issue in our country.
“We have a real tradition of strong criticism and it’s very rare for people of my generation to talk of people praising them. In coaching there was a belief that we had to get ‘wired into the players’ and that maybe was a way to coach at times 20 or 30 years ago, but not in the professional era where you were working with players every day.
“So I looked at three things really – talking up the players and showing them videos of where they played well, empowering the players and making them believe that they could win, and, thirdly, I had a passionate belief that in Scottish rugby we had played with so little width and so I had a style of attack I sought to develop.”
Hadden coached Scotland from 2005 to 2009, starting with three Six Nations wins in 2006 – the last occasion when Scotland won three championship matches in a season – but struggled to improve on the average record of one win per season thereafter.
He spoke of his attempts to develop a different attacking style, but stated that he was hampered by media criticism even when his team won, which he said undermined his attempts to build confidence.
Hadden enjoyed two wins over England, in 2006 and 2008, and he said the secret to those successes was sowing seeds of doubt in the minds of his opponents by the way his Scottish team started those games.
As the game changed in 2007, with a different emphasis in refereeing, he was forced away from his instincts, he said, and tried to change, taking gambles that did not come off.
“Latterly, I tried the Clive Woodward thing of bringing in a great big management team,” Hadden explained, “but that was never something I was comfortable with. You are getting a greater lack of control and increasing the number of people you can’t trust, and I was certainly not comfortable doing the Clive Woodward thing.
“That was a big error of judgment on my part brought about by gambling and trying something that was unnecessarily risky; one of the many things you learn in a job that was ultimately the least rewarding of my 36 years in coaching.
“People often think that the Irish model is one that we should follow, but they have a unique structure there, and the main reason for the Irish success in the professional era was when they stopped drinking on Friday nights.”
Lamont gave a detailed presentation for the first time on concussion, an area he has researched extensively since retiring a year ago.
He said afterwards: “The ignorance around concussion remains a major issue in the game and I think conferences like this can help to raise awareness. This was my first presentation on the subject, but I have spent the past six months studying concussion and working across the world on how it is, thankfully, being taken more seriously.
“As I said I love rugby but having ended my career through injury, and suffered a few injuries in my career, my passion in trying to do my bit to help current and future players be better looked after and take fewer risks.”
Rankin spoke about the moves in other countries to develop the game more quickly, noting that Italy now had ten youth academies, and revealed that the SRU were looking to integrate schools and youth competition and development.
Asked why Edinburgh and Glasgow had such large squads, sharing over 100 players, preventing many from playing, he added: “They do have big squads. A lot of these guys are out at the clubs. Lot of young guys given strength and conditioning programmes but what they need to do is play rugby, and any professional squad between 20 and 25 per cent of the squad are unavailable for selection through injury. But they are big squads and that is being looked at.”