by JAMIE LYALL
FROM his base in Wigan back in March, Shaun Wane watched Scotland’s barnstorming Calcutta Cup triumph. He saw a team that attacked with relentless vigour. A team built on speed and panache, unshackled, willing to take risks, and encouraged to do so by his long-time confidant, Gregor Townsend.
Wane also saw shortcomings. Little imperfections lost in the Murrayfield fervour caught his eye. Ills that, with the right approach, could soon be made well.
“Fantastic win,” the 53-year-old says. “But there were still lots of areas where they could improve.
“Body position in your defence, lines of running, understanding what areas you need to attack to get the best outcome. There were a few missed opportunities, which I’m sure Gregor and his team would have spotted, where they could have got England.
“That’s Gregor’s mentality and my mentality at Wigan: no matter who it is, if they can help us win and play better, bring them in and listen.”
Townsend and Wane, the highly successful and sought-after head coach of Wigan Warriors, have been listening to each other for a long time. Each has visited the other’s set-up over the years, and benefited from the wisdom of their counterpart and the study of the opposite code.
Hometown boy ready to spread his wings
Born and bred in the Lancashire town, Wane is to leave Wigan at the end of the Super League season after leading his hometown club to five trophies in six years at the helm. He will join Townsend’s team on a part-time consultancy basis, working to up-skill players and coaches from the national team down through the academy and age-grade squads. He hopes too to spend time with Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors, but is not yet sure whether he will have that opportunity.
The move was actually instigated by Wane, who proffered his services to Scottish Rugby rather than take up one of several offers from league and union.
“I had offers from the NRL, from Super League and in union, but Scotland was my ideal choice, because of my relationship with Mark [Dodson, Scottish Rugby CEO], Johnno [Scott Johnson, Scott Johnson, Scottish Rugby director of rugby] and Gregor. I know a few of the staff up there
“Scotland play fast and they play at teams. They make you defend. I like how they play. I like Gregor’s mentality in his attack. I spoke to a few of the coaches who look after the defence up there as well.
“Progressively, how they want to see these young players coming through and what skill-set they need to have, that’s hopefully where I will have a big influence.
“Gregor wants to be challenged and I’m good at that about improvement even in the smallest areas – that’s what I’ve always backed my coaching ability on. You improve in small areas, how people defend, how they attack – just small fixes, but they make a big difference.
“A lot of it’s not very visible to the average spectator but I know what I’m doing, and Gregor wanted a different way of looking at things and I can certainly offer that.
“I like the challenge. I admire what [Scotland] do and how they think, they want to improve, and the international rugby union stage is huge and really appealed to me.”
Scotland’s style of play under Townsend, and the overarching “technical blueprint” developed by the union to guide coaching through the age-grand ranks is based on speed. It is conducive to the cadence of rugby league with its thirst for quick ball, incisive running lines and the application of high pressure.
Making the case for the defence
Wane sees a batch of transferable skills in attack, but it is defence and defensive organisation where his heart lies. Scotland conceded more tries and points in this year’s Six Nations than any side bar Italy, while the national under-20 team shipped 91 points in their three pool matches during the recent World Championships.
“The skills are very transferable – evasion skills, line running, footwork into contact, detail in contact – all those things we can improve on,” Wane says.
“It’s detail. Since I knew I was leaving Wigan, I watched a lot of union, and I have over the years, I used to play union myself.
“I see areas I know I can improve, in the contact area, in your feet and body position, there are some real simple fixes where I know I can have an influence.
“Defence has been my main priority over the years – I love my attack and lines of running and skill levels, but if you can defend, you’re going to win games. I know I can offer some assistance there.”
Talking about the next generation
One of Wane’s most crucial responsibilities will be the nurturing of Scotland’s emerging talent. He stresses the importance of “developing good habits early”, and believes he can help deliver a brood of rounded, battle-ready youngsters to Townsend’s player pool.
“I’m very, very forward-thinking regarding young talent – I’ve given more debuts at Wigan than anyone else, and I feel I can do a great job with young talent up there,” he says.
“There’s a lot up there so in an ideal way, in five-six years’ time, we’ve got this young talent coming through at the top squad and they’re very, very highly-skilled and their knowledge of defence is better.
“I’ve been [Wigan] head coach for seven years, and I’ve always watched every under-19s game, reserve game, scholarship game. I’m very, very keen on starting young with good habits, and in six or seven years when they hit the top squad, they‘ve got real good skill-sets.
“I want to get up there and I want the people and the staff to see I can bring something. I’ve given up a very stable job to do this and take the plunge but I know I can make a difference, I’m very confident in my ability.”