It was a whirlwind visit but Lyn Jones certainly made his mark during his recent flying visit to Old Deer Park. The new London Welsh head coach flew in from Abu Dhabi for a whistle-stop three-day explorative mission to meet the club’s players and staff, before he returns on July 6 to take up his position.
Jones’ first act was to sit down with some of the club’s senior players to identify any areas that they felt could be improved upon, both on and off the pitch, for the coming season. He later addressed the entire playing squad, together with the club’s rugby staff, before meeting members of the administrative team and casting his eye over the training facilities. “It takes a long time to form good relationships but I was delighted with what I saw, and I found everyone to be very positive and ready to move forward,” said Jones.
“It was an opportunity to get a better understanding of how the club is structured, what’s good and what can be improved, and for me to then come back with recommendations to the board. It was also a chance for me to meet the players and for them to come and speak to me in an open and transparent environment, and see what I’m looking for and what they can concentrate on.
“For me, it was the start of a process. I’m looking over players and the quicker I can make and form opinions on individuals and key strategies the stronger we are going to be. Selection is key for the players. I don’t want to get to November to understand what my best team is. The quicker I can judge that then the quicker we can get the rewards of our performances.”
Jonathan Mills was among those senior players to meet with Jones and although he has never played under the former Ospreys coach before he was very impressed by what he heard. “He certainly knows what he’s talking about regarding rugby. He challenges you and he asks for your point of view,” said Mills.
“And that’s what you want from a coach, someone who is willing to listen but also challenges you as player, mentally as well as physically. Lyn wants to play the running rugby that London Welsh is famous for – that’s the London Welsh way. There’s not going to be a massive change in the way London Welsh play. I’ve never worked with him before, but everyone I’ve spoken to has said he’s a really good coach. He talks a lot of sense, he’s very organised and that’s what you want from a coach – you want to know where you stand. I’m really looking forward to working with him.”
London Welsh second row Matt Corker, who passed 100 league appearances for the club last season, is optimistic for the season ahead. “I think Lyn’s definitely going to be a positive influence,” said Corker. “He’s coached at the top level and he’s very keen on personal development. He’s got a wealth of experience and he’s learnt things out in Abu Dhabi that he wants to use at London Welsh, and all of that will help us move forward.
“This part of pre-season is obviously very important from a physical aspect, preparing your body for the season, but ultimately you’re always looking forward to when the rugby starts and working on how we’re going to play as a team. It’s a very exciting time.”
Those sentiments were echoed by former Scotland international Gordon Ross, who has come up against Jones’ teams in the past during his time at Leeds and Saracens. “It was all very laid back and informal but I think some key points came across that the players thought might help, and Lyn had ideas as well,” said Ross. “For the senior guys it was nice to get some idea as to what he wanted. Everyone wants to know what the new coach wants and to get to know him as soon as possible, so it was nice for the senior guys and everyone came out of the meeting very positive. It was a good start.
“From the meetings we’ve had with him and from playing against teams he’s coached in the past, he likes to play a free flowing fast game, which is the way we’ve tried to play at Old Deer Park in the past and I think that suits the personnel we’ve got at the club. The Ospreys were very abrasive. They had the aggressive rush defence that we try and play, and when they got it right they were almost impossible to play against. Hopefully we can bring that type of attitude to Old Deer Park.”
Meanwhile, for London Welsh flanker Lee Beach it was a chance to reacquaint himself with the coach he spent two seasons playing under at the Ospreys. Hence Beach is well placed to comment on what the London Welsh’s players and supporters can expect from their new head coach. “It’s exciting times for London Welsh,” said Beach. “Lyn is an outstanding coach. He has a tremendous understanding of the game and he sees things that no other coach sees. In terms of his all round and one-to-one coaching ability, I don’t think you’ll get anyone better.
“If something goes wrong at the weekend, we’ll be working on it on Monday and Tuesday to make sure that wrong is put right the following week. From a personal point of view, he’ll sit you down on a one-to-one basis and look at your game and say if you do this, your outcome would have been that. We’ve lost people like Josh [Drauniniu] and Errie [Claassens] but I think the new boys we’ve signed are strong enough to take us that step further. The Championship has to be a target for us as a squad and Lyn’s won so many leagues with the Ospreys, I think he’ll do the same with Welsh.”