Robinson commanding respect
August 18, 2009
Jason Robinson has made an assured start to life as a coach © Getty Images
Jason Robinson has started coaching and, according to Charlie Hodgson, Sale's senior professional, he has not had to shout very often so far. "He has the immediate respect of the players because of what he's done. When he speaks players listen," explained the outside-half starting out on his 10th season at the Guinness Premiership club.
How 'Billy Whizz' develops in his coaching role, having consistently denied he wanted to join the track-suited brigade after he retired from playing at the end of 2007, will be followed across the rugby world.
Robinson has been a winner at both codes and is determined to make a success of coaching alongside Kingsley Jones, Sale's new director of rugby following the departure of Philippe Saint-Andre to Toulon.
Hodgson said he was surprised at Robinson abandoning his mix of corporate work and family life. "After what I had read in the press then it was quite a change but it was very welcome. He's got a lot to offer and he's the kind of guy that when he puts his mind to something he will do well at it," he said.
It was the 'leg pulling' by Jones that indicated a slow change of mind in Robinson's thinking about what he wanted to do following a playing career that spanned 15 years.
Jones explained: "I used to joke all the time about what Jason was going to do. And when there was talk of Philippe getting the French job, after the 2007 World Cup, I would jokingly ask him about the possibility.
"But though Jason said 'no chance' and would laugh at the idea I sensed from his body language that there was indeed a chance. He had the best intentions when he retired on what he wanted to do, but I always kept in touch with him. It was difficult for him to walk away from something he had been doing for so many years."
Though Saint-Andre did not get the French job, following the departure of Bernard Laporte, he constantly received offers from clubs in the Top 14 and eventually succumbed last season when he signed up for Toulon from this summer.
Jones had been looking around for a suitable lieutenant and had kept tabs on Robinson on the advice of club owner Brian Kennedy. "Once Philippe had decided on where he was going, Jason eventually agreed to a meeting and, typically, turned up with a pile of questions he wanted to ask about the role.
"Jason brings the X-Factor to whatever he does. When he speaks, people listen. He's still learning the coaching side of things, naturally, and still will be for a few years. But there is much more to coaching than actually working on the field of play.
"We see things very similarly. That's why he was captain when I was coach and we are good friends. He will be my right-hand man here because the work of a director of rugby is so varied and demanding."
Robinson is part of a revamped coaching team. He is joined by Phil Keith-Roach, a member of England's World Cup-winning management team, and two faces from Jones' days at Gloucester in Byron Hayward and conditioning expert Peter Finch.
Jones expects plenty of advice from the quartet. "None of them will be afraid to give advice and I need that around me. I am not going to surround myself with people who I tell what to do, but I need people who will challenge me as well. That's the reason why these experienced guys have been brought in. It would be easy to bring in young coaches and for me to tell them what to do."
Sale have undergone a dramatic overhaul since Saint-Andre first indicated he would be leaving. The French connection has been severed as the former international wing has been followed back across the channel by a gang of players led by the two Sebastiens, Chabal and Bruno. Scotland captain Jason White joined the exiles by signing for Clermont Auvergne while Luke McAlister has returned to New Zealand intent on regaining his All Blacks position.
Jones has looked to recruit by bringing in players below international class. "We can't afford to have so many players away on international duty. It has been a handicap especially if you are hit by a number of injuries."
He believes Sale will remain a competitive force though accepts come the big Cup knock-out game then the absence of Chabal and co may well hinder success.
As for Robinson, he is getting used to a new daily routine. "You have to work far harder as a coach than a player. I did not realise what was needed.
"I did say on more than one occasion that I never wanted to coach, but things change over time. When Kingsley said there was an opportunity here to be his right-hand man I was flattered.
"I know I have a lot to learn. But also I have a lot to give. I enjoy the banter with the players, after all I played alongside many of them. But they also know I now have a say in selection."