Richie Rees admits his new role as Cardiff Blues’ backs coach is a dream come true, as he looks to put his stamp on the lethal backline at the Arms Park.
The former Wales, Cardiff Blues, Edinburgh and Dragons scrum half was promoted from his role within the academy system, and joins fellow home-grown coaches Richard Hodges (defence), Duane Goodfield (scrum) and Robin Sowden-Taylor (strength and conditioning) in John Mulvihill’s backroom team.
The 36-year-old, speaking exclusively in the latest episode of Cardiff Blues Uncovered, is looking forward to building on last season’s positive aspects in attack but also believes it’s crucial to simplify the methods used both on and off the field.
“It’s massive and is something I’ve always wanted to do. The reason I got into coaching was to kick on, especially after seeing the coaches I’ve worked with over the years, and you try to take something from everyone and see what they were good at and what they weren’t good at,” said Rees.
“It was a job opportunity that I couldn’t turn down, and with the group of backs that we’ve got in this squad, there’s a huge chance for us to really get better.
“We did some things exceptionally well last year, and I want to build on that while highlighting areas that we can improve on and hopefully we can kick on from there.
“I try to be very streamlined. I think the game can get over-complicated and the big thing in rugby at the moment is concentrating on limiting your playbook. You focus on two or three big rocks, which you want to do exceptionally well.
“Even if sides know they’re coming, both tactically and technically, they still have to stop them, which becomes harder if you execute them well.
“I’ve looked to simplify things to be able to perform consistently and I wanted to hand a lot of the work over to the players. I know a couple of them from a playing capacity, so hopefully there’s a bit of trust there on both side of the table.
“I spent my first year here learning a lot from Jockey [Matt Sherratt], and I was on the field with him a lot effectively as his assistant backs coach. I thought he was very good at what he did.
“As a group of players, I know what we need to get better at and we need to concentrate more on doing those things in training and reflect that in our game. If it doesn’t look like a game, then it’s pointless doing it.
“I’m a qualified teacher, so I hope from a delivery point-of-view that will help. At the top of the game, it’s about how you connect with certain individuals and get the most out of them.
“Teams play in relatively the same way, and the difference comes in your x-factor players and the five per cent detail, which separates the best from the rest.
“How you get the understanding and cohesion between players can come in various different ways. The likes of Tomos and Jarrod have that understanding because they’ve played with each other so much, but you still have to train, rep the plays and do a lot of work off-the-field.
“How do you capture the group? Keep your points short and simple and pick up a lot of individual feedback, which is when you can get detailed. There’s various different ways of getting the boys engaged in meetings, including putting a bit of humour in, and I’m lucky that Richard Hodges does something quite similar.
“We play off each other and hopefully the boys can learn from that.”
Rees, who has also worked with the Dragons academy and Wales sevens side, had an exclusive look at the set-up at Racing 92, joining former Cardiff Blues team-mate, Casey Laulala, who worked as skills coach with the French giants.
The nine-times capped international was impressed with the set-up in Paris, but insists the quality of the backline at his disposal is a coach’s dream.
Rees added: “Last season, myself and Casey were in similar roles where we were looking after the transition players between the ages of 18-24. He was doing that at Racing 92, so I spent a cracking week with him at their fantastic facilities.
“They’ve got all the backing in the world, but there’s not loads of difference, and again it’s the top-end quality players. It’s about those little details that we want to get better at and we want to transfer that onto the field.
“We are lucky to have a young group with some exciting talents like Owen Lane, Ben Thomas and Max Llewellyn, who could make the step up this year.
“But lets not forget about boys like Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo and Jason Harries. These boys are fundamental to the group, are here for most of the season and we’re able to build around boys like that.
“They’ve got the experience to drive things both on and off the field, while also helping in bringing through the next generation of players.
“I’m also excited to welcome Josh Adams and Hallam Amos into the set-up. I’ve worked with Hallam before and both of them will complement the other wings in the squad. If there is an area of depth that we have at the moment, it’s that back three.
“It’s unbelievably talented and we’re all here to get another five to 10 per cent out of each other. Hopefully the standard of quality across the board will only drive that.
“Both of them are away with Wales, and we hope that all of our boys will be on that plane to Japan, including Jarrod, Tomos Laney, as well as Rey with Samoa.
“As soon as they come back, to have that firepower, depth and quality out wide is any coaches’ dream.”