Thursday, May 23, 2013

Success and disappointment... out with the old and in with the new!

The Malindi High 7s team after the District tournament, just couldn't get them disciplined or committed  this year!

We found success and disappointment at the same time at the Kilifi county tournament at St Georges.  I arrived to find that we had been drawn the most difficult pool.  We were in a pool with Galana (aforementioned feared team) and Mariakani, meaning our pool of three probably had three of the top four teams in the tournament. There were two other pools with four teams each, and I was a bit disappointed as I’m always looking for more experience for our players, in the end, if they made it to the finals they would only play 70 minutes of rugby! At any rate, I spent time discussing with Waweru, Chibudu and the Captain (Salim) the different options for lineups and personel changes and we agreed that we would like to try to get as many changes in as possible as there was a long road ahead before the Nationals and there was a large possibility for injury.

The first game was a surprise 10-0 victory for Mariakani over Galana which only served to intensify my fear that we may not make it to the next round.  The format of the tournament had the first two teams going through as well as two of the best third place teams, but it was virtually impossible for the third place team from our group to make it simply on the basis of not playing as many games. Mariakani was strong against us as expected, apparently they had a couple of players that play at Mombasa sports club and it showed.  They were well organized and almost always managed to move the ball all the way across the field with ease.  We beat them though with our sheer fitness advantage and the final score was 12-0.

Galana was thus playing like a desperate team against us, a loss to us would mean and end to their tournament.  They played well as expected against us, and unfortunately, as usual, when Malindi High is under pressure, they forget all of the training, tactics and strategy we’ve discussed over the last three months (for some of them three years!) and start playing this street brawling coast rugby with millions of knock-ons! I decided to make some changes at half time to put on two of our fastest players on the wings and players that had bought more into our system.  Both are better at kicking and this would have been the perfect antidote to the heavy pressure Galana was putting on our line, but the substituted players and Zeinia (an ex-player and last year’s captain that had accompanied us) heavily protested and in the end no changes were made.  In the end Waweru decided not to make the changes even though we had agreed to them before hand.

I was incensed.  In the end, nothing changed in the game, the boys continued to play low quality rugby and the match finished a 0-0 draw.  The result was good in that we finished first in our pool and eliminated Galana, but for me it was a disaster as 1) I had been undermined in my decision making 2) we basically played only 7 players in the first round of the tournament and I was hoping to play everyone in the first round and 3) and possibly most importantly, we were winning but not playing even decent rugby.  If we wanted to represent the coast at the nationals, we had to play solid tactical rugby.  

The team immediately broke down after the game and all the players started yelling at each other, blaming each other for the poor result.  I came to them, calmed them down and told them that we needed to be positive, that the result was good in the end, but that we needed to analyse what was wrong and fix it.  I also told them that I would not accept dissention, especially during the match, and if they didn’t like the decisions I was making, I would quite happily relinquish decision making responsibilities to someone else.  I said the same thing to Waweru privately, I was quite disappointed as I really felt that we had the potential to achieve quite a lot as a group, but as usual, panic turned to disorganization and if we continued on this familiar path, we would not get anywhere, especially against extremely well trained, orgainised, focused, committed and disciplined teams like St Georges who had been destroying the teams in their group by at least 30 points without conceding any tries. The organisation, focus, commitment and discipline was exactly what we lacked.

I stayed the night in Mombasa, and came back in time for our first game which was against the second place team in the other group.  I discussed lineup options with Waweru.  I wasn’t in agreement with what he had decided which was to generally stay with the first team the whole way through.  He was quite nervous about making it through, but my approach was more to trust the players. In my view they were each one as good as the other, to be honest, the skill level was low across the board but everyone’s fitness was pretty good.  The one factor that differentiated them was their speed and he actually was not playing the fastest team. 

We just needed to check on a couple of injuries, and when we brought one player over he announced to us that it had already been decided that he wouldn’t play and he told us about a couple of other changes the players had decided on… I was pretty upset especially because we had been spending so much time discussing these issues, and apparently they had already been decided.  I sort of felt like my input wasn’t necessary or appreciated since nobody took the time to tell this to us, and it was announced to us as the players were about to take the field!  At that point I simply withdrew and allowed them to do what they wanted.  The results were predictable.  They barely beat a pretty shabby team again playing their street fighting rugby and then barely got by Mariakani again I think something like 5-0. 

I left at that point as I was still pretty upset and didn’t feel like contributing to a team that didn’t appreciate my contribution, also, their advancement was secured to the provincial (regional) tournament as both finalist go through.  They were crushed in the final 34-0.  This was the disappointing part for me… the goal all along was to be the best team in the province, and we can’t even pretend to be close when we don’t win all of our games in the counties and get completely crushed like a bush league team would in the final!  Waweru said the boys basically had it in their minds that they couldn’t beat St Georges and it showed.  I’m sure they could if they played the type of rugby we’ve been training.

This whole situation has led me to some soul searching.  I think this whole year I’ve been writing about the fact that I have been disappointed in this particular team in terms of especially discipline, focus and commitment.  We did ask them what their goal was and it was to win two games at nationals, so I took them at their word and tried to push them to a level where they could achieve that. Unfortunately the team was not ready to train at that level, and I’m trying not to be upset with them, because my commitment was sound.  I invested quite a lot into having them be successful only to be lied to, and disappointed throughout the process.  

I really feel like finding another team to coach… but I suppose this is just a dud year and I should find a way to lower my expectations.  I guess I got excited by the continued success and upward trajectory we’d seen in the last three consecutive years.  Perhaps the formula of having kids train earlier in mass (form 1s and 2s) and routing out the bad habits from the beginning will help.  I promise never to put up with any player who thinks he’s better than the rest and doesn’t come to training or feigns injury.  It’s time to mold these guys into real rugby players and to stop looking at them like students from the coast that need to be babied!  Hopefully the newly established club will help with that!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Won Districts and thanks to George!

Right, most of you must have heard by now, Malindi High won the District Championships.  I only made it to the first day where we won our first game against Barani I think 12-5 and our second game against Gede something like 30 – 0.  I missed the third game on the Saturday as I had a prior engagements and can’t imagine what might have happened as we tied Muyeye (yes the team we’ve been trying to train up to standards) 0-0!!!!

The first game against Barani was marvelous, we dominated and played our game, I tried to make a mass substitution just after half time as promised to the players and that killed the flow completely and a normally trusty sweeper made a horrible error and threw the ball to nobody (just launched it backwards) which resulted in a free Barani try but was absolutely not indicative of any real possession by Barani.  In the second game we crushed Gede which was the only team I was really nervous about as they were big and had beaten us in 15s (through a fluke!). I was pretty happy, the fitness training had given us results and the only small issues were some tackling and some blind passes which I’ve been trying to coach out of the players since the beginning of the season.

Now it’s off to Counties!  We’re worried as usual about Galana and St Georges, but I think we should be able to beat one of the two of them, and I believe two teams will represent the county.  Again, I still have question marks about the commitment of this team.  Our physical preparation although improved is poor compared to past years, not to mention the mental commitment and the commitment to physicality and tackling.  Having said that, I do think that they have the talent to win the provincials again… but we’ll have to see. 
George pushing the young ones to work their butts off!  Some serious squats here!

I’d like to also take the opportunity to thank George for coming out with his brother Paolo yesterday.  We were training the junior kids (as the seniors were shipped off to kaloleni for the counties) and the two of them set up a pretty rigorous physical training session.  I hope we can make it a regular occurrence and it seems like the boys appreciated it quite a lot.  It’s always good to have someone else push them and motivate them and I hope having a pair of extremely fit role models might encourage them to work hard!!! J  Wish us luck at the counties!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Districts Tomorrow, Black Rock and KRU

Another quick one!  Had a great training session with the boys this afternoon, just went over some basic tactics.  They seem pretty fit and I don’t expect them to have any problem at the District Championships tomorrow, although I am a bit concerned about their tackling… but at least the fitness problem is out of the way.  Same issues still exist regarding motivation, and I feel like probably it was my responsibility to sort this out… but god knows I’ve tried!  Some key players didn’t show to training this week, and Waweru and I decided not to chase after them too much, although it is a bit of a shame, there are a couple of key guys missing, seems like some of them straight failed to report to school!  I guess rugby is not that important to them, although I fear there might be some other dynamic that I am not getting.

Good news to report, we are registered to the Black Rock tournament which will be a huge boost to Malindi Rugby in general!  We have been dying for some stiff up-country competition and I plan on sending the young guys and some key senior players up for that (too bad for the guys who haven’t been showing up for training! :)).  Also, I was finally put in touch with some key people in Nairobi working with the KRU (Mssrs Gregory Sang and “Tank” Otieno).  Really hoping that finally we can get somewhere with this registering of the Club in Malindi issue!

By the way, if anyone feels like chipping in to help finance some of the small costs for the Black Rock Tournament that would be great! (especially if there might be a school that could host us and maybe play a friendly with us on the Sunday!! )

Up Malindi Rugby! 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Back to square one?

Right, well first of all, apologies to everyone for not having posted for a while!  I had a lot of people asking me when I was going to write again!  Well, as most of you probably know by now, Malindi didn’t make it to the provincials for fifteens this year despite high expectations.  This was quite a disappointment for all of us, but to be honest with you it was expected after the poor level of  (especially physical) preparation by the boys this year.

We have been having some issues with this group of players, which was extremely surprising to me, but I’m used to it now!  It seems like this group, especially (and both sadly and ironically) the senior players, feels like it is simply entitled to win and is not willing to put in the extra work necessary to win.  It’s true that there were some unusual circumstances.  The elections created a tricky break just before the “counties” which were generally holidays and the change to 15s in the first term but all the other teams contended with this as well, so this is no excuse.  We seem to have had a ridiculous amount of injuries, and players just didn’t show up to training, especially after particularly physically challenging training sessions.

I really thought we had the motivation part of the equation figured out since we clearly showed the players in past years that intense preparation and commitment equals success and success means traveling and fun.  But somehow we came across a group of boys (many of whom I’m training for the third and fourth years this year) who just don’t want to put that extra effort in and then blame others when they lose!

St George's ready to kill us!
So basically, we showed up to the Counties, thrashed the first team we played (I can’t remember some team from Kilifi) something like 60-0 (all scores reported here are approximate as I can’t remember them anymore! ) and then played St Georges (arguably, like us, perennial favourites now with probably Shimo la tewa and Waa) who were massive!  It is hard for me to believe that most of their pack was under twenty years old (again sorry if I’m wrong, but their pack probably weighed at least twice ours).  We ended up playing quite well against them, held a 6-3 lead for a while after the first half and it looked like we could do quite well, but then our boys eventually ran out of steam and got thrashed I think something like 25-6.  They were basically 3 times fitter than we were, and this was something that I had warned the boys about before the tournament.  For maybe the first time ever in my time coaching however, I wasn’t disappointed with the loss, because St Georges was clearly better than us.  It was somehow soothing! J  Congrats St. Georges!  Their Coach mentioned in passing that they had entered some sort of senior club championship and had benefited greatly form the experience and from a number of friendly games against teams in nearby Machakos which I presume has closer to an up-country rugby culture (can’t be worse than on the coast!).

Malindi High... 
At this point I thought we were out of the tournament but there was a semi final to play, and we played our old rivals Galana.  Galana was not previously a strong rugby school, but pretty much since I started coaching they were bolstered by the arrival of quite an excellent (I think Luya) coach called Odima who had previously raised the bar at rival Barani and then had switched schools.  Apparently Galana had beaten us (while I was away) last year in the 15s district tournament but this year had decided to compete in their own district (Magarini) and not against us in the Malindi Championships… which begs the question, why weren’t their two spots for us in the provincials last year if we were representing two districts? 

Waweru looking crushed
At any rate, we expected Galana to have strong backs and a weak pack, but they were the opposite.  They again were much fitter than us and better disciplied, regardless we held a 3-0 lead into the dying seconds and then somehow a player took a long throw off a lineout, ran through our whole team from half way between midfield and the 22 and scored a try to make it 7-3.  We were crushed.  We showed up to the 3nrd place game and won that 7-0 against competition that didn’t have enough jerseys or boots… I was very disappointed and said as much to the players after the game.  I reminded them that their goal was to win two games at the nationals, and they had not done enough to make it out of the counties (granted, probably Galana and St Georges and us would have made the top four in the province and if fact, St Georges ended up winning the provincial tournament).  But surely they needed to work much harder if they wanted to achieve what past teams had achieved.  Two years ago our goal was to make it to the nationals and we did and last year it was to win a game at nationals and we did that for the 7s tournament.

The boys training for 7s on their home pitch
We still have the 7s tournament to prepare for, and we are, but the preparations (although slightly improving) are nowhere near where I had hoped they would be.  I am still extremely disappointed because for me, 7s is not rugby and I would prefer that we excelled at 15s, but the boys want another go at it, and I’ve told them that I will only train them if they improve their fitness, and it seems like they have done so.  We have an extremely quick group this year (and many players with varying skills) which lends itself to the sevens game, so you never know, if they learn from their lesson, they might just win the provincials again this year.  I hope so!
Super Chibudu!

On the bright side we have had quite a response from the form 1s and 2s.  Good old Chibudu has been showing up every day to coach them and has been doing a great job motivating them.  So with a bit of luck will have a great new crop to work with next year!  Up Malindi high! :)