By John O’Sullivan

 

New defence coach Cullie Tucker says his appointment this past summer is an indicator of Connacht Rugby’s commitment to providing pathways for young coaches and players to rise through the ranks of the province. 

 

Tucker, formerly a coach in the All Ireland League with UL Bohemians and Shannon, succeeded Pete Wilkins — who moved to the senior coach and attack coach berths — in the role after working in various capacities, including elite player development officer, with the Westerners for the past six years. 

 

The Limerick native said that the precedent set by him working his way through the ranks — an example that also extends to players from the academy and the province’s affiliated clubs in the senior squad — could serve as an encouragement to budding coaches in the West of Ireland. 

 

“I think there is an appetite, from Willie Ruane the CEO right down, to promote from within,” Tucker said of Connacht’s holistic developmental plans. 

 

“The relationship between underage coaches coming through and senior coaches has always been strong, right back to Nigel(Carolan) and Jimmy(Duffy) and Pete(Wilkins) coming through. I would have always had great relationships personally with those people and always learning from them and always growing off them. 

 

“Then you’re going away and cutting your own cloth in terms of underage coaching, age-grade with Connacht and age-grade with the national side. So there is an excellent pathway in place, provided by Connacht Rugby and the IRFU, for coaches as well. 

 

“Hopefully it’s something that a lot of aspiring coaches will take a lot of heart from, in terms of fellas like myself or like Mossy(Lawler) who have come through pathways, that there is that there and hopefully we can have more Irish coaches coming through which is only going to be good for the game. Personally, I started at AIL(All Ireland League) level with Shannon and Bohs and that gave me an unbelievable grounding before I went into Connacht. 

 

“I think it’s brilliant for a lot of aspiring players and coaches to see that the structures are there from the IRFU and Connacht.”

 

Despite only being in the defence coaching job a number of weeks, Tucker — who was the Irish u20’s forwards coach last season — can see already see signs of growth, particularly in the win over the Bulls but even in the defeat to Cardiff. 

 

The former underage coach credits the excellent coaching environment created by Andy Friend and Pete Wilkins that lends itself to player development. 

 

“Yeah, they went well, Tucker said of the Westerners’ defence against the Bulls in last weekend’s 34-7 win over the South African side at the Sportsground. 

 

“There were pockets in the Cardiff game that were very good as well. We knew the energy was there, but it was nice to string 78 good minutes of D(defence) together against The Bulls. In fairness to the boys, they were great, especially recovering from the early setback. Their energy was brilliant.

 

“A big thing for Andy and Pete when we all joined — myself, Mossy and Dewald(Senekal) — is that we were all joined up, in terms of how we trained, in terms of our principles and in terms of how we went about our business.

 

“Pete is the senior coach, who myself and Moss report into in terms of defence and attack. It’s been great having that one point of contact and he kind of draws everything together and hopefully, it has that wholistic feel to it where both sides of the ball are connected.

 

“There’s alignment through everything. I think that’s where Pete has been brilliant. Peter’s experience with defence and his overall experience  in in-game planning has been brilliant in terms of tying all that together. 

 

“Hopefully we’re delivering those messages to the players in a very simple and easy to understand way which means we’re understanding the connectivity between attack and defence and how it impacts the game and how it impacts momentum.”

 

Head coach Andy Friend is confident in Connacht’s preparation ahead of the Westerners’ inaugural United Rugby Championship fixture away to the Cardiff Rugby at 7:35 PM on Friday evening. 

 

Connacht reshuffled their coaching staff over the course of the pre-season, with Dewald Senekal joining the province as a forwards coach, while Collie Tucker and Mossie Lawler have both moved to the first team picture from the academy set up. Peter Wilkins, meanwhile, moved from defence coach to attack coach. 

 

Friend insists that the new coaches — most of whom have experience of working with the Westerners — will bring a fresh impetus that will prove beneficial as the new season starts and progresses. 

 

“Yeah, it’s a good feeling and it’s a fresh coaching group,” the Australian, who is going into his fourth season as head coach, said of Connacht’s pre-season preparations. 

 

“Pete(Wilkins) has been moved into that senior coaching role and he’s thriving in that. As you know, he’s done defence for four years here, but he felt he had done enough with the defence and wanted to get his hands onto the attack stuff and I was more than happy to accommodate him there. He has got great knowledge of the attack. He’s thriving in that position. 

 

“Collie Tucker and Mossie Lawler, having come through the pathway in our academy which is a nice seamless transition, have come in. Two younger coaches with a lot of energy and a lot of good thought. That’s adding good value. 

 

“Dewald(Senekal) coming from France, played a lot of Rugby in France and South Africa, has added some newness to our forward pack. Across the board, I think it’s been a pretty seamless transition. I suppose the results will tell us in the next few weeks, but I’m really happy with the way the first ten weeks have gone.”

 

Given the structure of the Rugby United tournament, Friend is eager for Connacht to start quickly with a win, but the former Australian Sevens coach is wary of the threat posed by Friday’s opponents in Wales. 

 

The head coach highlighted the Welshmen’s fitness, their fast style of rugby and their familiarity with their 4G pitch as their particular strengths.

 

Last season, the sides finished on a win apiece in their two meetings and the Australian is expecting a similarly tight contest at the Cardiff Arms Park. 

 

“We’ve been guilty in the last few years of maybe not getting the start we wanted, we’re very aware of that,” Friend said. 

 

“We’ve got Cardiff away, as we know, on Friday night. That’s going to be a really tough game. They’re a formidable outfit and they’re very hard to knock over over there. I think we’ve had two successes there in the last ten years, so it’s not an easy game. We’re all aware of that, but our intention is to start well and hopefully — if we’re at our best — it will be a really impressive win for us.”

 

Meanwhile, club captain Jarrad Butler says the players have enjoyed the pre-season schedule and working with the new coaches ahead of the season’s curtain-raiser. 

 

The back row, 30, says that there is an air of positive energy around the training camp and he is confident that it will stand the squad in good stead for the season ahead. 

 

“Even from the start of the pre-season, there was a lot of changes,” the Australian said. 

 

“But I think it’s been pretty refreshing for the group to have some new voices around the place, new drills, new energy. We’ve definitely gotten that from all the coaching staff. D(Dewald Senekal) has come in with a lot of energy and philosophies he’s had from coaching over in France. 

 

“Everyone knows Mossie and Collie, having come through the academy, but they were highly regarded, given the stuff they were with the academy, so there was a real eagerness for them to be involved and work on some of the things we felt we needed to work on, come the end of last season. It’s been good.”

 

With nine new players in the Connacht squad this season, including academy graduates moving to the senior team, the transition isn’t just off the pitch. 

 

Butler, though, says he enjoys the role of being the club captain and helping these new players — whether they are local or from overseas — to adjust to life with the Westerners. However, the former Brumbies back-row says the environment in Connacht allows for all players, whether young or old, to show their leadership credentials. 

 

“A lot of new guys have come into the setup and they have been integrated well. I think having a new coaching set up in there has made that transition a little bit easier because everyone has kind of been on the same page. 

 

“The last couple of years, we have been able to roll onto the following year. This year has been a real change of direction and a real change of style from the coaches, so it’s been new for everybody. 

 

“In saying that, we had a lot of guys who performed really well last year — you think of guys like Paul Boyle, who had a great year and got himself involved with the Irish squad — you think of guys like Tom Daly and Caolin Blade. 

 

“You’ve got these younger guys coming in and stepping up to leadership roles as well. It opens the door for them to have a voice. It opens the door for new guys to come in and have a voice as well and I think it works best for everybody.”

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce a new coaching team for next season.
 
Beginning in 2021-22 Peter Wilkins will move to a new role of Senior Coach where he will have primary responsibility for attack. He will be supported by Mossy Lawler who has been appointed Assistant Attack & Skills Coach, in addition to Colm Tucker who comes on board as Defence & Forwards Technical Skills Coach.
 
A process to recruit a new Forwards Coach is also now currently underway following the announcement of the departure of Jimmy Duffy at the end of this season.
 
These changes will take the total number on the Professional coaching team from 4 to 5 providing Head Coach Andy Friend with greater coverage across each of the respective areas of the game.
 
All three coaches have signed two-year contracts running in tandem with Andy Friend’s recently announced extension as Head Coach.
 
Peter Wilkins first joined Connacht as Defence Coach as 2017, having previously held the same role at Edinburgh Rugby for two seasons. He arrived at Edinburgh having spent 8 years in Australia, where he first began work at Queensland Reds as Performance Analyst, moving through the ranks to become Skills Coach and then Defence Coach at the club, as well as Head Coach of the ‘A’ side.
 
Mossy Lawler joined Connacht as a coach in 2014 after a successful playing career with Munster and Wasps. Lawler made 65 appearances for the province between 2001 and 2008, winning two Heineken Cups in the process. He has spent the last six years as Elite Player Development Officer in the Connacht Academy and four years as Head Coach for the Connacht Eagles.
 
At international level he has served as Attack Coach of the Ireland U18 Schools and Head Coach of the Ireland U19s.
 
Colm Tucker joined Connacht in 2015 as Coach Development Officer before moving to the role of Provincial Talent Coach 12 months later and subsequently as Elite Player Development Officer, working primarily with the forwards in the Connacht Academy and as Forwards and Defence Coach for the Connacht Eagles.
 
During that time he was Head Coach of the Connacht U18s that won the 2018 Interprovincial Championship – a first in 10 years for the province. He was also Coach of the Ireland Clubs & Schools team for three years, Assistant Coach to the Ireland U19s, and Assistant Coach to the Ireland U20s 2019-21.
 
Between them Tucker and Lawler have been instrumental in the development of the many Connacht Academy players who have moved up to the Professional squad in recent years.
 
Commenting on today’s announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“This is really exciting development for Connacht Rugby. Firstly with Peter as our new Senior Coach we have someone who has been a crucial part of the coaching team since my arrival. Pete has an incredible knowledge of the game and has built up a wealth of experience across the PRO14 and Super Rugby. I know he will thrive in his new role of implementing strategies across a number of areas of our programme.
 
I’m equally pleased to welcome Colm and Mossy into our coaching setup from next season. I’ve always believed in strong integration between the Pro and Academy environments, so we’ve been working closely together the past few years. Like Nigel and Jimmy before them when they first became Pro coaches, they have worked their way through the coaching ranks here and have played a major part in the development of the many young players we have in our squad. Their appointments will allow for even greater continuity as we continue to develop our homegrown talent.
 
We’ve also started the process of recruiting a new Forwards Coach so I’m very excited by what we as a coaching team can achieve in the years ahead.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY COACHING TEAM 2021-2023
Andy Friend – Head Coach
Peter Wilkins – Senior Coach
Mossy Lawler – Assistant Attack & Skills Coach
Colm Tucker – Defence & Forwards Technical Skills Coach
TBC – Forwards Coach

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