IRB Nations Cup
Romania reap reward of High Performance drive
By Chris Thau
Chris Thau speaks with Alan Solomons, Richie Dixon and Daniel
Mitrea about the strides being made in Romania under the new High
Performance Unit structures.
The IRB Nations Cup came of age in spectacular fashion with its fifth edition, coming to a dramatic conclusion at the weekend and proving that the IRB High Performance (HP) Programme designed to help emerging nations improve their competitive standards on and off the field is working well.
It was not only the many upsets - pre-tournament favourites Scotland A and Argentina Jaguars battled to avoid the wooden spoon - that gave this year's tournament a special flavour. It was the quality of the game displayed by the six participants, in particular the three tier two Nations Namibia, Romania and Georgia, that gave the IRB HP team reason to celebrate.
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Namibia winning the trophy has made a lot of people smile both in Bucharest and Windhoek but it was the overall quality of their high-tempo, high-intensity game that made them a lot of friends.
The fact that Romania finished second - their best ever performance - playing a brand of imaginative, modern rugby not normally associated with their traditional forward game, has also made some of the seasoned observers in Bucharest shake their heads in disbelief.
Georgia were remarkably competent, given the absence of many of their senior players, and Italy A surprised the pundits and perhaps themselves with the quality of their game. The heat and/or torrential rain also played a part in the outcome of some of the matches but ultimately it was the players themselves and their coaching staff who were the heroes of these intense two weeks of rugby drama in Bucharest.
IRB High Performance consultant Alan Solomons, a former Western Province head coach and Springboks assistant coach, arrived in Bucharest for the tournament and spent considerable time with the coaching staffs of Namibia, Romania and Georgia.
"I work closely with the National Teams coaching staff and
technical and HP directors of those Unions, paying a number of
visits to their countries, watching anything from club games to
their elite international matches including the Nations Cup,
Churchill Cup etc," he said.
"We are in constant communication doing evaluations before major events and debriefs afterwards. There is a template I use analysing decision making, levels of skill, strategy, tactics, preparation and then I review those after each match. In Romania and Georgia I also liaise with IRB Project Manager Richie Dixon, who helps the local HP managers keep the programmes on an even keel.
(Left to right) Richie Dixon,Alan Solomonsand Daniel Mitrea
"I have to say that I am not prescriptive and do not tell a coach or a union what to do. We develop a mutual relationship and I give advice, but ultimately it is up to them what they do and how. There is not a wrong way or right way to do things. Approaches differ, languages are different, but the outcome is what counts. We started all this together with (former IRB training manager) Bruce Cook and developed the practice over a number of years.
Project Manager Richie Dixon, a former Scotland coach, is delighted with the way the entire programme has worked. He has been keen to point out that his role with the Romanian and Georgian Federations is an advisory one.
"Bruce Cook and Alan Solomons felt that in order to make the HP project advance there was need for a presence in the field to manage the feedback. I started working with the Romanian Federation and I discovered that what was needed was encouragement and dialogue. Daniel Mitrea, the FRR HP manager, was doing the right things and really we did not need any radical new blueprint. The main obstacle was, as it has always been, the comfort zone - the mindset of the older generation.
"Basically, many if not all correct structures are in place. Robert Antonin, Daniel Mitrea and Steve McDowall have done a great job. The potential is tremendous. The right management structures are operational, the financial structures are transparent and well managed and we know where we are going. The thing that shines through is the love for the game and their enthusiasm for rugby.
Marrying Performance and Development
"The programmes are clearer and sharper all the time. Now we are moving into the second stage where there is less hands-on and more management and fine-tuning. We are getting the right people in the right jobs to do the right things in the right way. Starting up a new project like this is comparatively easy; maintaining it on the right path supported by the right people is what matters," Dixon added.
Thirty-six year old HP Manager of the Romanian Federation, Daniel Mitrea, was the first graduate of the IRB Rugby Administration programme at the Manchester Business School.
"Basically, Richie Dixon acts as a mentor. He is knowledgeable, experienced, flexible and inspiring. He has helped us to restructure the inner workings of the way the HP department worked and we improved in leaps and bounds. We have changed so many little things, which together made a huge difference," Mitrea said.
"We had no real mechanism in place to link Performance and Development so with the IRB's help we formed a new club, CS Municipal, sponsored by the Bucharest Town Hall, (mayor Sorin Oprescu).
"The new club has 35 players who come from the age group structure and play in the National League. The players, the best from the age group programmes, train together at the National ground and form a good base for the National team. In fact, three players have already been selected for the Senior squad to enable them to taste the life and training programme of the elite.
"I have to say that we have turned a corner and the fact that we are still in contention to grab the remaining slot in the 2011 World Cup proves it. One year ago nobody believed that we could make it but we regrouped, started to do things the right way with a work ethic and discipline and we're still in contention."