STEVE Diamond has only been in his new role as Edinburgh Rugby’s ‘lead rugby consultant’ for a couple of weeks, but he has already formulated a detailed assessment of what is going wrong at a team that has lost eight of its last nine league matches – and what has to go right if it is going to win Friday night’s Champions Cup last-16 tie at Leicester Tigers.
But the 54-year-old-Englishman’s role is not only – perhaps not even primarily – about examining what happens on the pitch. As his title suggests, he is there to consult with Edinburgh’s coaching team – above all, with head coach Mike Blair. Having been in charge at both Sale Sharks and Worcester Warriors, Diamond has worked in some demanding as well as rewarding rugby environments, and is confident that he can offer the benefit of his experience to his colleagues.
Appointed to help stop the rot after a string of defeats and Blair’s announcement that he will step down as head coach at the end of the current campaign, Diamond is so far only committed to his present job for the short term. But, while on-field coaching may not be his main enthusiasm at this stage of his career, speaking earlier today [Thursday] at his first press conference since beginning his new job, he did not entirely rule out the possibility of staying at the DAM Health Stadium in some capacity beyond this summer.
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Q: Tell us how you came to be appointed.
Steve Diamond: “The process was simple. I was attempting to buy Worcester for the last six or eight months [after the Warriors were wound up]. And that came to nothing.
“And then I saw that Mike was in a little bit of distress, as in not anybody to help him, I thought, looking outside him, young coaches round him. And I threw my hat in the ring, if I’m honest. Just said ‘Look, if you need somebody to assist, I’ve got a wealth of knowledge and we’ll see where we go with it’.
“So I’m here till the end of the season, really. I help him in team meetings, I look over training. Training is very good, the way they do things. He’s a very good up-and-coming coach, I think: he just needs a bit of help.”
Q: Would you stay on beyond the end of the season?
SD: “At the minute, the senior recruiters in the SRU and Edinburgh are looking for a new head coach and I’m going to assist them with that. So at this moment that’s not even on the agenda for me, to be fair. I want to get through these games. I’ll do a warts-and-all report on where I think it can improve and what’s good and what’s very good – and quite a lot of those things are, if I’m honest.
“And then see where it stands in July, really. Meanwhile, if the powers that be want me to do due diligence on coaching, then I’ll do that.”
Q: But would you want to be considered as that new head coach?
SD: “No, not at this moment. I don’t want to do that at this moment in time, if I’m perfectly honest. I think it could create a little bit more anxiety in the place, and that’s the last thing I want to do. I want to give people confidence – because what the team actually lacks is confidence.
“Whatever bullshit is said out there, the confidence comes from winning games, playing well – and it doesn’t look like the team has done that for a while, if I’m honest. I was involved at the weekend in Connacht and we flattered to deceive: we weren’t good at all. I’m hopeful we’re not going to turn out like that tomorrow night.”
Q: Mike Blair has said that henceforth he wants to concentrate on being “a world-class attack coach”. Could he still be here next season in that role under a new head coach?
SD: “Fortunately still in rugby we’re not like football where a new guy comes in and he makes mass changes from the physios, the conditioner, the kit man, right the way through. I’m pretty sure that whoever comes in will look at Mike, because he’s very good at what he does and I’ve been really impressed with him. And there is a definite role between this director of rugby, head coach role.
“There’s a lot of stuff in the background that is boring and isn’t what some younger lads want to do. They want to be out there showing people how to play and giving them the benefit of their experience and being inventive and creative. Mike has always been like that, and I know the way Scottish Rugby is trying to play is like that, so that permeates down to here.
“I think what we need is just a little bit more game understanding, if I’m perfectly honest. We need to know how to win games, and how to throttle teams when we get into position. A classic example was last week against Connacht when they went down to 13 men. We had our tails up in the second half, there were seven points in it, and we conceded five points, four penalties and a yellow card in that same period.
“You don’t have to be a statistician to realise we should be scoring 15 points in that period. We couldn’t do it, we bottled it, and I think that’s what I can assist Mike in, that game management.
“And the delivery of some messages. Not everybody can deliver the same message. Going to Welford Road you need to be abrasive, you need to match them physically.
“Because I’m sick of hearing about what they did against Saracens. It’s history. We’ve got to do it tomorrow night – and with the pack of forwards we’ve got out, and a back line to die for. We’ve got an international back three, we’ve got two very good centres, we’ve got a 10 who could be a superstar and we’ve got a nine who knows how to game-manage.
“I don’t see where the lack of confidence comes from. That’s the bit that surprised me.”
Q: Richard Cockerill said and believed that Edinburgh were too soft, too polite, culturally if not actually during games. What do you think?
SD: “I think the boys need to be harder on each other. There’s sometimes a lethargy. It is disjointed coming away from internationals, but Glasgow are in the same position and they seem to have grasped the nettle.
“Yeah, I’ve had that conversation with the squad this week, to be fair. I think we’re a little bit too nice, and it resulted in a fight at training, which is what we want sometimes. You don’t want it all the time, but coming into big games like this you’ve got to be ready for it mentally.”
Q: Who was fighting?
SD: “That cannot be told! I think I got the blame for it.”
Q: Cockerill actually said that Edinburgh was too full of nice private schoolboys.
SD: “I’m not as direct and rude as that with the lads. I’m not trying to be facetious, I think we’ve got a great set of lads but we just need to be a little bit more hardcore in the right areas. We need to know when we can win a game.
“And fair play to Mike, he had a good season last season and it’s gone into the doldrums a little bit. But who does he call on? His defence coach, who’s similar age and not had a lot of experience? His forwards coach, Steve Lawrie, who’s very good but really not had a lot of experience at being in a predicament when you’re losing, losing, losing? And that’s what I can assist with.”
Q: Is it an advantage coming from the cut-throat English Premiership?
SD: “The worst thing that’s happened in the Premiership is no relegation. When there’s relegation the crowds go through the roof at the bottom clubs. Now they’re just dead rubber games. Nobody’s interested in seeing them. Relegation gives people like me something to get up in the morning for.
“If you’re nice to your bosses you can smoothe through these jobs for three or four years, but if there’s relegation on the cards then come January . . .
“There’s a statistic that only one team has been bottom of the Premiership at Christmas and survived and it’s Sale. That’s how cut-throat it is.”
Q: Is that the mentality you bring?
SD: “Partly. But I think we’ve got to accompany that hard-nosed anti-relegation mentality with the soft skills Mike delivers with the way he has played the game and the perception of how they want to play the game which is fantastic, I like it. But there is a team currently in the Premiership – Bath – who try to play lovely rugby. Where are they? Bottom, basement. Because you’ve got to have a forward pack knocking around.”
Q: Are you still keen to get back to coaching after all the off-field trouble at Worcester?
SD: “No. My role over the last 10 years has been to control the mentality of the building more so than what we’re doing in an attack play. We have very good coaches like Mike and Steve Lawrie to do that and you’ve got to give them their free rein otherwise they never develop as a coach.
“So do I want to be out on the field in October or November in the pouring rain? Not really, but I’ll have to be there with an umbrella.
“But there is so much more to the job. Young, ambitious coaches and with the team that Edinburgh have put together, we should be better than we are. And if I can assist the coaching staff and we can all assist the playing staff then I think we should have, for Scotland rugby, two teams in the top four to six of the competition.”
Q: The Leicester game is the season’s last roll of the dice for Edinburgh – how do you approach it?
SD: “Only a fool could think they could turn it around completely. I think what you can try to do is not overload them with information. I’ve not talked about anything tactically apart from the obvious – slowing the game down a little bit.
“If the opposition are down to 13 men, why are we rushing everything? Take a break and work out how we’re going to deal with a side two players down. And we didn’t have that in our locker room last week. We need a bit more game understanding.
“And working without the ball. The bit that doesn’t take skill. What I have noticed is that they’re a fit team. They’ve not got many injuries, there’s not much post-surgery coming up. That tells you they’re conditioned well and if they’re conditioned well then you can defend well and that’s 65 per cent of the game – defence, playing when you’ve not got the ball, chasing kicks from kick offs.
“Because if we kick and we don’t chase then [Freddie] Steward will be catching the ball all day and will look like a British Lion and he’ll be lamping it back at us and we’ll be under pressure.
“They reckon in businesses you need 100 days to turn it around. I’ve had nine. I’d have to be Warren Gatland, Steve Hansen, Clive Woodward . . . .”
Q: What about staying on in a consultancy role?
SD: “The first and most important thing is getting this weekend out the way, and then get through those remaining two – if not three or four – games. We’re out the league obviously, but if we can get a win then it would be great to play here in a quarter-final, whoever it is against.
“Then we’ll re-evaluate where we’re at. By that time, after the Ospreys and Ulster games, I’ll deliver the report, which will not be personal but perfectly honest, and then we’ll see where we go from there.
Q: Do you hit it off with Mike?
SD: “We get on. We’re compatible, definitely. And I don’t say that with him not being in the room. We speak when we’re not at work, we’re on the same plane when delivering messages.
“He’s just delivered the tactical appraisal of our team run, and I’ve delivered the physical approach we need. So, we don’t have to speak for hours about that. We’ve already hammered that out from day one that this is how we’ll do things.
“He selects the team and I assist him with that selection. If you’ve got the right coaching team and the right selector then I can count in 18 years of coaching on one hand how many times me and the head coach have not agreed on more than one player – and if we have disagreed on one player, it means we’ve got two players playing well.
“So that debate is healthy. It’s not a case of ‘he should have picked him’ or ‘I would have picked him’. With the squad size Edinburgh have got of top players, it’s difficult not to pick the right team – I think my mother could do it.”
Q: Are you – as Duhan van der Merwe suggested – like Cockerill but a bit more thoughtful?
SD: “Well, I don’t know. Richard has had a good career, hasn’t he? He came up here and did what he needed to do, and I think it was right.
“You make yourself redundant if you’re good at the job, to be fair. But you’ve got to change, and you’ve got to bring in people around you who can help that change. You’ve got to bring in younger people who understand the game and bring a different breath of fresh air.
“The greatest manager in the world was Alex Ferguson and he used to change his second-in-commands on a three or four-year basis. And I think Richard did a very good job here, but everyone has their time, don’t they?”
Q: Is it a welcome change to be talking about rugby again rather than the business side of things?
SD: “Really good. I’ve been welcomed from top to bottom, from the kitman who I worked with 20 years ago in England, to Mike Blair who I’d met – his brother played at Sale for a while. I had Duhan at Worcester, Murray McCallum . . .
“I settle in quickly. I don’t need to be fussed about or people to do anything for me. I come in, I listen, and contrary to popular belief about my vociferousness with referees over the years, I have calmed down a little bit. Not completely, because we have to have a say and we have to win the touchline.
“Hopefullly some of that will rub off, but more importantly, the coaches become better and the team becomes better.”
Q: Are you going to be in the coaches’ box at Leicester?
SD: “At Welford Road you’re not in the coaches’ box, you’re in the crowd, but I will be there with them. Again, I’m only there as an advisor, I’m not making all of the decisions. What Mike and I seem to do well is have a similar thought process about substitutions, about how we’re playing the game and where the threats are.
“He’s delivered that message very well and it doesn’t need two people saying it all the time. You’ve got to give people the lead and respect they know what they are doing.
“It’s about trying to give confidence to the players and the coaches – a team and a management team who are low on confidence. A different voice can change it, but it didn’t do very well at the weekend. I’m not shouting from the rooftops yet!
“A good performance isn’t going to be enough – it needs to be exceptional. I’ve been going to Leicester for 30 years and only won three times, I think.
“It’s a difficult place to go, and getting that changing room buzzing on Friday is going to be exciting. We don’t want to see any yellow cards but we want to see a good old-fashioned game of rugby up front in the first 20 minutes.
“If you go in thinking ‘Crikey, we’ll get past the warm-up and first 20 minutes’, you’re bollocksed. I’ve told them that: you’ll be behind your posts within 15 minutes.
“That’s the way it is in environments like that: 22,000 people, maybe 250 Edinburgh people, who will be loud and boisterous. You’ve got to shut the crowd up.”
Not sure this answers very much at all. Lots of empty rhetoric but blame subtly being shifted to players rather than admitting that ridiculous half back selections hamstring the whole team. Suspect if there is a win then it will be down to the coaching/ consultancy not the players. Fairly astonished that he could get the position just by offering himself up??!! Other sports and organisations have far more transparent recruitment processes and with good reason. Too much is done behind closed doors in Scottish rugby.
Have to say I found the comments quite refreshing! And good on him for contacting MB/the SRU and offering his insight for a few weeks.At this stage in the season who else would be available.Clearly MB-by his own admission can’t cope-so good that a hugely experienced coach/manager around to offer insight.
Mind you it certainly didn’t work in Connacht last weekend so maybe”Dogma” is right.
We’ll know by 10pm tonight!
I agree with the last line in Dogma’s post if not the rest.