FORMER Scotland cap John Hardie is looking forward to taking his first footsteps into coaching after he was named as Stewart’s Melville forwards coach ahead of the 2021-22 club rugby season.
Hardie, who turned 33 recently, announced in June that he was retiring from the professional game after a fine playing career which began in his homeland in New Zealand and continued in the northern hemisphere with Edinburgh Rugby and Newcastle Falcons.
The back-row man qualified to play for Scotland through his grandmother from Fife, and earned 16 caps for the national team between 2015 and 2017, including three at Rugby World Cup 2015.
Since announcing his retirement, Hardie has relocated to Edinburgh to live with his partner and was keen to stay involved in rugby in some capacity.
“I got a call from Nick McCashin, the director of rugby at Stewart’s Melville, who I had played against as a youngster back in New Zealand and he was getting in touch to see if I would be keen to do some coaching at the club,” Hardie explains.
“We had a good chat and I liked his vision for where the club are headed so it seemed like a good opportunity for me to dip my toe into the world of coaching.
“Obviously, I have been playing professionally for over a decade, so I haven’t had much coaching experience as yet, but I am very keen to learn and I think working with an enthusiastic, young bunch of players down at Inverleith will be a great start for me.
“I have heard people in the past say that it can be hard when you have played at the top level to try and pass on things you used to do on the pitch to others.
“I am aware that it may take some time for me to fully get my ideas across and to build up my own coaching identity, but the players and the other coaches at the club have really helped me over the past few weeks during pre-season. They have made me feel welcome and have been receptive to my ideas, so now I am looking forward to actually seeing the first XV playing.
“Whilst coaching I am also doing some strength and conditioning and personal training too, so things are busy, but I am embracing the things that are coming my way post-playing,” adds Hardie, who insists he has no intention of being coaxed out of playing retirement to play for the Inverleith men.
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Hardie will work alongside newly appointed Stewart’s Melville head coach Alex Hagart, the 28-year-old former Aberdeen Grammar, Heriot’s and Scotland age-grade stand-off who was previously attack coach.
Jonny Else, who was head coach in 2019-20 when the Edinburgh club appeared set for promotion iy of Tennent’s National League Division Two before the pandemic hit, is now in a mentoring/skills coaching role at the club, and he and McCashin are experienced heads who ‘youngsters’ Hardie and Hagart can lean on for advice.
Dave Hampton, David Calder and Connor McKay are amongst the others involved in the new-look coaching and backroom set-up.
“Post-pandemic we wanted quite a fresh approach to things and we think that John working alongside Alex and getting input from Jonny, myself and others at the club will be a good thing, I am excited about it” McCashin said.
“The players really bought into what Alex was doing with the attack until last March and he is an ambitious young guy, while John’s rugby CV speaks for itself.
“He has played at the highest level and I think the boys are getting a real buzz out of being able to tap into his knowledge. He is just a really down to earth guy who I think will fit in really well as we take Stewart’s Melville forward.”
Hagart, a teacher by trade, who stepped back from playing a few years ago due to a number of head knocks, admits it has been an exciting few months.
“Firstly, I was shocked to be offered the head coaching role and, secondly, I was surprised when I was told that John was coming on board as forwards coach, but both things were great,” Hagart states.
“Over the last few years I have been enjoying getting some coaching under my belt and in the second part of the 2019-20 campaign I really felt like the players were buying into my ideas in attack.
“Hopefully, in my new role I can build on that while having someone of John’s calibre around is going to be excellent. Once the players get over the initial shock of realising that they are being coached by someone they are used to seeing on TV, they will find out that he is just a normal guy who is keen to muck in and I think we are building something quite exciting at the club.
“Both myself and John want the players to play without fear and not be scared to make mistakes and I am looking forward to working with him.”
Stewart’s Melville open their 2021-22 National League Division Two campaign at home to Whitecraigs on September 4th and while the crowd that day at Inverleith may not be as big as the ones he has been used to at Kingston Park in the last few years, Hardie very much still expects to feel a “buzz” on match-day.
“Like every rugby player or person involved in the game, I have always loved the build-up through the week to a game at the weekend and I want to keep that buzz going in my new role at Stewart’s Melville,” Hardie said.
“There will be some highs and lows along the way, but I am really looking forward to coaching more and developing some new skills whilst helping the boys enjoy their rugby and playing for each other.”