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Sept 2010 Chat With Frank

Following on from my programme piece that asked for any questions for the “Chat With” section I have been asked about selection procedures and decisions. Most of these questions seem to revolve around the notion of why player X or Y isn’t playing or may not have featured yet.

I don’t want to get into specific player situations – that is between the player and the coaches - but let me give you an idea about how many of these complex issues are approached.

Firstly, remember that we are only three games into a 26 game league programme. We have signed a number of new players and the coaches need to see them in different structures, set-ups and combinations to appraise their effectiveness and suitability at the club. The “optimum” starting line up is far from finalised.

James and his team have done a great job in signing some potentially very good players, so they deserve our time and patience to see which blends work. At 54 – 3 up on Saturday, that presented the perfect opportunity to test out such issues. I would hazard to guess that the coaches learnt just as much if not more from the last 32 minutes then they did in that first 48 minutes when we scored more than a point a minute.

In terms of selection, we are no different from other sporting bodies – the incumbent player needs to be dislodged from his starting position. This will either happen through loss of form, injury, unavailability or to accommodate the squad rotation system and maintain our strength in depth as the season progresses.

Take a look at last season.

Sam Mills had to attend his sister’s wedding and so was unavailable for that particular weekend. We drafted in Tom Hancock on permit from Bridgend, he played well and rightly maintained his spot for the next and following fixtures. Not great from Sam’s point of view, but such is rugby life.

As semi professional rugby players there is an expectation from the club that they have the maturity and insight to understand that non-selection must be viewed objectively. We only have the players for a couple of hours twice a week, so the coaches cannot sit down each time with the 6 or 7 players who have not made the starting 22. The players have been told that if they genuinely do not understand why they have been overlooked for selection they should ask the coach for a face to face meeting. We regard this as fundamental evidence of a player’s desire for self development.

Sometimes they are going to be told information they might not want to hear. On other occasions, we expect that player to realise just how well another is playing to keep him out of the starting line up. Honesty works both ways. We will always have time for those players that have such a desire for self improvement.

Sometimes, there can be very little that player can do to get themselves selected. If they were injured or unavailable for selection for a particular week, another player has been chosen and so occupies the position.

That chosen player may be playing well enough to hold down that position and we, as management and supporters, should be pleased that we have such situations arising at the moment. The non selected player must maintain their professionalism by continuing to give 100% both on and off the training pitch and to talk positively when questioned about such issues. Anything less is tantamount to criticising the player in the starting position and the club.

Let me give you just one of many examples of the sort of attitude that encapsulates the behaviour we expect from our squad:

At the start of last season, with Matt Thomas and Tom Edwards at the club, Calwyn Morgan was, in effect, third choice scrum half. Calwyn did not miss a training session, attended games where he more often than not wasn’t even on the bench and acted (in public at least for I’m sure he was frustrated and keen to participate) the total professional.

There were aspects of his game he was told to work on and he trusted the coaches in their assessment of his game. As you know Matt got injured against Llanelli and Tom left for Bedwas. Calwyn became first choice almost overnight. Having re-read many of the positive comments posted about his performances in last seasons run in and those this season, he justifiably got his reward due to his attitude and his desire for development.

Now Andrew Quick has joined, Calwyn has had to see himself sat on the bench for these last three games. No public grumblings, no talk of his right to be starting – just getting on with helping the club be successful.

We all have our favourite players, but this is a luxury not afforded to our coaches who must base choices on very clear, dispassionate and long term parameters.

The club is in uncharted territory in this Premiership spell. A great start – highest points scored no less – but we face a stiff test over the next month. We should all hope that these selection headaches continue for that means we will have good players playing some great rugby and causing stronger teams some real problems.