The Cardiff Blues academy welcomed Alan Kingsley to their coaching team this week, with the Irishman appointed as a kicking consultant.
The ex-Navan, Western Force and Leinster academy coach has replaced former Cardiff Blues outside half Nick MacLeod in the role, starting his duties earlier this week.
Kingsley also works in a similar consultancy capacity with Dragons and Biarritz Olympique, and will primarily work on individual skills with Cardiff Blues academy backs.
Born and raise in Portlaoise, a town located in the Leinster province, Kingsley’s first coaching experience came while playing for Perth Spirit in western Australia. He became a kicking and skills coach with the Super Rugby outfit’s academy, and spent time working with the likes of Ryan Louwrens, James O’Connor and Nick Cummings.
Upon his return to Ireland, he became both a head coach and a director of rugby with All-Ireland League side, Navan, and also linked up with the Leinster academy.
The kicking specialist worked closely with Leinster’s under-19 side in particular, at a time when the likes of Jordan Larmour, Harry Byrne and Ciaran Frawley were coming through the system.
He now embarks on his third season in Wales, having initially been brought over by Bernard Jackman to work with Dragons.
Kingsley is delighted to have the opportunity to link up with the Cardiff Blues academy and is already excited to work with the next generation of talent at Wales’ Capital Region.
The Irishman said: “Cardiff Blues are a really proud club with a massive history, and they’ve won big tournaments in recent years.
“Having been involved with Dragons for the last number of years, we keep an eye on the age grade games and seeing how is coming through and there seems to be a good conveyor belt of talent coming through both regions.
“It’s really exciting to get the opportunity to work closely with some of the younger players at Cardiff Blues and try to bring on their skills around kicking.
“It’s really exciting and it’s always an honour to be involved with massive clubs. Cardiff Blues are a huge name and are a very competitive in both Europe and the PRO14. It’s really nice to be around the system.
“There are good, young coaches here and I’ve already been introduced to the backroom staff here. I’ve only done one session so far but over the next few weeks and months it will be nice to knock ideas between each other and I’m looking forward to growing those relationships.”
“We’re all very young in our coaching journey and have some fresh ideas. There will be some learnings along the way and it’s great to share the journey with these ambitious, young coaches while learning from the older and more experienced coaches that we get to observe.”
One of the main challenges that the Covid-19 outbreak has presented is a reduction in the number of fixtures underneath the senior level.
While youngsters such as Gwilym Bradley and Mason Grady have been handed opportunities in recent weeks, many of the academy youngsters have to replace their game time and keep on top of their development.
And Kingsley believes it’s a perfect opportunity to do diligent and detailed work on their skill-sets, and he is licking his lips at the challenge ahead.
“Obviously these boys train to play games and it’s always nice when you’re able to put things in place during the week and see them coming to play on the weekend,” added the kicking specialist.
“But, because we know there won’t be any games for a few weeks, it’s a time when we can really break the skills down so it’s a good time for people to look at specific areas of their game that they can develop and go through a slower, detailed process to get to the end result.
“That’s where I really like to get into the fine detail and look at the small bits and pieces to ensure that their kicking game is up to scratch.
“Something I really enjoy is breaking down the kick as a skill and looking at the technical aspects. At this point in my career I don’t have a real interest in looking at the attack.
“For me, it’s more about the individual skills and working one-on-one, trying to help people with the specific kicking elements of their game and the kicking process, and that’s where I get most of my enjoyment from.
“Kicking and the variety of kicks has become a massive part of rugby now. You just have to look back at the trends from World Cup to World Cup.
“The number of kicks in play in jumping from year to year so there are opportunities there. That’s not to say that we want to go into the kicking game the whole time but when people see an opportunity where a kick would work then it’s about executing that skill in the moment, and that’s what we work for.
“There’s obviously a technical aspect to the kick and the skill of it is about executing those technical aspects in the heat of the moment, and making decisions as well.
While Dave Alred might’ve been one of the first prominent kicking coach, becoming famous for working with Jonny Wilkinson, there is a growing trend of specialist kicking coaches being hired by both club and national sides in rugby.
It’s an interesting field of the game, with a growing emphasis for all players to possess an all-rounded skill-set but Kingsley insists there is no such thing as a strict ‘How to guide’ to master the art of kicking, as he’s keen for the individual athletes to express themselves.
“It’s an area that I looked into, and there’s not a load of people specialising in that area at the moment, but certainly more and more people are looking that way,” added Kingsley.
“You see more and more clubs around Europe either hiring a consultant to come in or, in some cases, hiring a full time coach for kicking.
“So the emphasis has gone down that route and head coaches see the importance of being able to execute the skill and how a strong kicking game can help you win games, in terms of both attack and defence.
“There’s definitely an emphasis put on the kicking game and it’s a role that’ grown massively over the last two or three years. But it’s still a niche role at the moment.
“There are key factors that you can coach and things you look for in a kick. But it’s a very individualised skill and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that as well.
“For me, it’s very much the individual player and athlete that has to find their own way, so our role is more about guiding them than telling them what they have to do.
“You look around the top kickers in the world, and there’s not two of them that are the exact same. Everyone has those small bits and pieces that they do differently.
“I coach very much around what works for the player, what they feel comfortable doing, what they don’t like. I try to find a balance of knowing what makes up the kick from a technical sense and knowing when to let the athlete make up their own mind.
“But going back, there is six or seven key factors to tick off, but it’s not as black and white as that. At the end of the day, the athlete are the ones out there kicking the ball and they have to be happy with the process.
“When people think of a kicking game, they might just think about the half backs. But it’s gone across the whole backline now with centres, wings and full backs contributing to the all-round kicking game.
“There are different type of kicks for different positions, and an effective kicking game will have a number of strong kickers, so to share that load and benefit everyone it’s important that the entire backline has kicking coaching.”
Gruff Rees thanked MacLeod for his contribution to the academy and is delighted to welcome Kingsley to the set-up.
“First and foremost, we’d all like to thank Nick for his contribution to the role over the last couple of years. His input as a coach was invaluable and you can certainly see the benefit that individuals have had from working with him,” said the academy manager.
“But we’re really excited about Alan’s appointment, and are looking forward to see a continuation of Nick’s work, as well as Nicky Robinson before that, while also bringing his own fresh ideas and voice into the set-up.
“Alan takes great pride and is very diligent in his work, and I think boys like Ben Burnell, Jacob Beetham amongst others will reap the rewards of working with him.
“There’s certainly a growing emphasis on the art of kicking as a skill in both attack and defence at the moment, and the need for a specialist kicking coach is becoming essential, especially for young, developing players to understand the ‘how’ to kick effectively but also the ‘where’ and ‘when’ is crucial.
“Alan’s work can help develop the decision-making process we strive for in our work with the academy backs.
“Alan has picked up great experiences over the years, and he’s another exciting addition to our academy back-room staff.”