Castres lends Africa helping hand

(IRB.COM) Friday 30 January 2009

 Castres lends Africa helping hand
Madagascar's only direct exposure to top-flight rugby has been at the Hong Kong Sevens in 2006, where they played Fiji

When Castres Olympique overcame London Wasps last weekend in the Heineken Cup they did so under the watchful gaze of several travelling coaches.

The seven men were not scouts, neither did they leave before the end to miss the post-match traffic. They soaked up every second of play as if the game was their last.

They were the coaches chosen by the respective unions of Tunisia, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Madagascar to undergo one of African rugby's most exciting fast-track schemes.

At the beginning of 2008 the Confederation of African Rugby (CAR) signed an historic agreement with French Top 14 side Castres Olympique.

For the first time a professional side entered into an agreement with one of rugby's continental associations, agreeing to help CAR in various training enterprises to support the development of rugby in Africa.

Three year plan

Over three years Castres have agreed to host three two-week training camps with coaches from the seven countries and for the past two weeks they have undergone the second such training camp, which has also provided a forum for their doctors and physios in conjuntion with Laboratoires Pierre Fabre, principle sponsor of the French club.

"We are very proud to be the first to have signed an agreement of this nature," said IRB Regional Development Manager for Africa Jean-Luc Barthes. "We're dealing with people here who are coming from, in some cases, poor backgrounds and to be treated so well by this professional club is a recognition of the work CAR is doing, and of the people within the Unions in these African countries.

"The idea is to give these coaches the opportunity to get in touch with the highest levels of coaching and rugby, and that's why we wanted to organise it in France because, except for South Africa, it would be difficult to find this level of high performance in Africa, certainly for these French-speaking nations." 

Opportunity of a lifetime

"During the two weeks they've had the opportunity to watch matches, including the Heineken Cup game, they've had the chance to coach different teams like the club's Under 19s, Under 21s and Under 23 sides, they've watched professional practice sessions and they've made lots of contacts within the club.

"Last weekend Castres forwards coach Jeremy Davidson, the former Ireland international, gave them a presentation with Allain Gaillard, the club's Technical Director - a wonderful opportunity for them to improve their coaching levels."

For Barthes the key to the project is to create an understanding within each Union of how high performance works, through the knowledge and experience of one coach. He, or she, can then relay their learning to national colleagues to foster better working practices right throughout the sport in their country.

"In Africe we're used to having coaches from France, South Africa and the like but it's very important for me to improve the level of indigenous coaches in each of the countries, even if they have to work alongside other coaches," Barthes added.

Coaching the coaches

"We've done a deal with these guys. They have to organise a minimum of three training sessions with the club coaches in their country, and then report back to me on how it goes, because it's really important for me.

"Helping them to become better coaches themselves is important, but giving them the key to unlock that ability for other new coaches to do the same is where the big picture is, that is how to raise the level of the national teams in all of these countries.

"Sometimes the most difficult thing is to create the link between what they want to do now and what the Unions want them to do, so we also assist them with that process.

"I've been really impressed by their willingness to learn. They're very focused, they ask a lot of questions and they have got involved. We have the same group here as last year and they've obviously come on a lot.

"It's also good for Castres. We're used to speaking with professional clubs and everything being about money, but with this they are able to show that they can be interested in the lower levels of the Game, and support these players. It's a good lesson perhaps for everybody."