LISTEN to Dean Ryan speak, and it does not take long to find out why Gary Armstrong has likened him to Jim Telfer. The period of involvement with Scottish rugby may be very different – Telfer has given his life to it, while Ryan plans to be here for just 12 weeks – but the kind of commitment to the game is identical.
When Telfer prepared his teams for matches, it was often about giving the opposition a short, sharp shock. For one game against Wales, the former national coach based the squad just over the border in England and told them to view it as an SAS raid.
Ryan’s approach is similarly straightforward. Put him in a Sky TV studio for his day job and he can offer as complex an analysis as anyone else in the game. Put him on a training pitch with less than a month to go before the start of the RBS Six Nations Championship, and his message is starker.
“Part of the attraction is giving people bloody noses,” Ryan said yesterday when asked why he had agreed to put that day job on hold and become Scotland’s assistant coach for the five-game campaign. “I like that.
“We can give people bloody noses. I’m not going to be around in two or three years, so it’s not about evolving something, it’s about 12 weeks. That’s pretty good for me.
“I think I can make a difference on that basis. If we give someone a bloody nose then that’s great.”
As a particularly combative No 8, most memorably with Newcastle where Armstrong was the scrum-half, the England international bloodied more than a few noses. As a coach, he had some success with Gloucester, but since leaving the club in the summer of 2009 has had no direct involvement in that side of the game. By his own admission, he was not really looking for any either, having settled down to life in Cheltenham and work with Sky.
“Scott turned up and asked if I fancied doing 12 weeks,” he explained, “Can I provide some stability? Think we could give someone a knockout blow? That lights a few fires that are probably always in me.
“At the end of that 12 weeks I hope it’s been a fantastic ride. I have no interest in a permanent appointment.
“I don’t want to be a career coach. I don’t want to spend my life every three or four years on a cycle. I don’t want my children to be on that cycle. I made that decision four years ago.
“I have a beautiful little 14-week-old daughter. I don’t intend to trawl around the country trying to be a career coach. I want to have a stable household and do things differently. That’s quite a strong motivation.
“But then somebody comes along and says ‘Can you help us for 12 weeks?’. There’s part of you that always burns.”
He is an intelligent man, but, as befits someone who served in the Royal Engineers, favours thinking with an end product over open-ended musing. There will certainly be no theorising for the sake of it when he takes the Scotland forwards over the next few weeks, as they prepare for their opening Six Nations match at Twickenham on 2 February. Apart from anything else, there just isn’t the time.
“The last thing I want in such a short window of opportunity is vagueness,” he said. “There’s a danger when a coach goes that there’s so much hangover from previous ideas, and so many new ideas about how we want to take it forward, that you end up with just a pot of vagueness. I’ve got to try to get some clarity over the next two or three weeks.”
Given that Test rugby can be very complex, with minor defects often proving very costly, Ryan knows that clarity cannot be the complete answer. Nor can mere passion. Now more than ever, it takes a lot more than burning desire to win a game. You need a brain as well as a heart.
“There’s always a balancing act between evolving a game plan, and becoming over-complicated and losing some of your emotions around it.
It’s quite clear from looking at some of the [Scotland] games that there are some issues around contact, but it’s too simplistic to just go: ‘Oh. we’ll go and tell them about that and it will all be solved’. It’s about how we move, how we play.
“There will be a lot of detail underneath it, but there will be two or three headline things. We have to be better at our breakdown. We have to make sure that we hold on to a secure set-piece platform.
“And we have to make sure that we’re in games at 60 minutes, so tactically we need to take the philosophy of what we have and make sure it fits with ensuring we’re in games at 60 minutes. There’s no point talking about philosophies and evolving processes if they don’t end up being competitive.
“In 12 weeks what can I change? It’s probably very small things, but I’ll make sure we’re accountable for those small things being changed.”