The wifi is shocking. The first thing I see on screen is a frozen picture of Denis who appears to have grown a Lions’ mane during his journey back from Australia. After several failed attempts at a Facetime call we revert to the old school approach and pick up the phone,
“What did you have on your head?”
“You saw it then? It was a rug. I thought it would look funny, like I hadn’t cut my hair”.
“Struggling with jet-lag then?”
“Just a bit. I don’t know what time zone I’m in”.
I’m not surprised. There were times over the last couple of months, watching rugby at five in the morning, that I wasn’t too sure either. I sense we’re both skirting the obvious topic so I ask Denis how the final was for him. He knows the question is coming,
“It would have made a perfect Hollywood movie moment wouldn’t it? They were on the ropes, hanging on for dear life. We were spent but pushing hard. Then there’s the Josh Dugan tap-tackle on Callum Watkins. Well, it wasn’t even a tap tackle – he was falling and he managed to catch Callum with his fingernails and everything swung on that moment. That’s the beauty of sport”.
“That’s poetic but it doesn’t make it any easier. I was knackered just watching”.
it’s one of those rare games that no-one deserved to lose. But it was a World Cup final. Someone had to lose.
“It’s like Wayne Bennet said, it’s one of those rare games that no-one deserved to lose. But it was a World Cup final. Someone had to lose. It was tough to take but that was it. We just didn’t have enough on the day”.
“And they did?”
“Just that one extra bit of quality. People have said that the tap tackle was lucky. For me it showed the desire, the commitment of Josh. He did what great players do”.
“I hate to ask, but what about afterwards?”.
“In the coaches’ box there was a lot of emotional energy spent. I think along with the feeling of anti-climax the most significant feeling was tiredness. We were bitterly disappointed but not devastated. We lost 6-0 to the best team in the world, a team England hadn’t beaten for 10 years, a team playing in front of their home fans. We were underdogs from the start but we didn’t play like that. We had a great team ethos, from the very beginning and throughout the tour. Everyone played their part. It was something special to be part of”.
“I guess everyone focuses on the field of play but that’s only part of the story?”
“Some guys only played 25-30 mins in the entire eight weeks but those are the ones that made the tour. Players like George Williams and Scott Taylor”.
“What do you mean, ‘made the tour’?”
Some guys only played 25-30 mins in the entire eight weeks but those are the ones that made the tour.
“For the ego-maniac personality that defines an elite sports person it’s not easy if you’re not the focal point of things. What is easy is to start whining and moaning. You can go off at a tangent, create silos. We didn’t get any of that. The guys that didn’t play so much were the ones that made our training sessions so good”.
“A lot quieter than you might think. We had a few drinks but it was mostly sitting around chatting, reflecting”.
“Working with Wayne has been outstanding. He’s re-enforced many things about coaching I may have lost sight of. He’s made me realise why I do what I do”.
I want to win but there’s too much emphasis on that. It’s the thing that seems to confuse everyone about what coaching is about and it’s why coaches in the UK don’t get enough credit.
“Why do you?”
“Because it’s in my blood. I love helping people get better. Like any coach I’ve got an ego and I want to win but there’s too much emphasis on that. It’s the thing that seems to confuse everyone about what coaching is about and it’s why coaches in the UK don’t get enough credit. Coaching is about improving performance, helping people to keep moving forward. Winning is a focus but it should not be a fixation. Of course, you’re paid to win but you need to get pleasure from the small things, appreciate the moment. And remind yourself you’re there to help people improve”.
“Talking of which, where do you go from here?”
“I was sat watching the guys have a drink and relaxing the day after the final and Kevin Sinfield came and sat with me. That’s what he wanted to know. He said, ‘We’ve come a long way. Now it’s time to talk about the next World Cup’ ”.
“I’ve got to be honest. After the initial disappointment, I figured the perfect movie moment would be winning it at home in four years’ time”.
Now it’s time to talk about the next World Cup
“You’re both right. And I am already thinking about how we maintain this group, keep them bound together. A lot are pretty young still. And Kevin knew how many days there were until the next one kicked off”.
“That is dedication and attention to detail epitomised. If the countdown starts now, how are you going kick things off?”
“First, I’m going back to work, to Widnes, for a few hours”.
“You only got back last night!”
He laughs, “Yeah, but I’m looking forward to getting stuck in, see how things are. Besides, I want to pick up my new kit.” Denis pauses, “But then I’m going to take a couple of days off to chill with the family. And that’s what I’m looking forward to most”.
Rest up Denis. You’ve deserved it. Thanks for all the memories.
Coach Down Under
This article is part of the Coach Down Under Series.