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The Friday Interview: Gert Smal

The Friday Interview: Gert Smal

Continuing our series of Friday interviews and as part of the build-up to the GUINNESS Series 2008, IrishRugby.ie caught up with Ireland’s forwards coach Gert Smal to see how he is bedding into the role and how things are shaping up ahead of the Canada game on Saturday week.

IrishRugby.ie: Gert, you’ve been here now for a few months and have had the chance to work with the players in training camps and see them in action with the provinces. How happy have you been with what you’ve seen so far, particularly with regards to the adaption to the ELVs?

Gert Smal: All teams are going to struggle in certain parts of the game, they’re still adapting. I don’t know how long we are going to play it (the ELVs), but the more we play it, the more we will develop. But in general, very happy.

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IR: There have been plenty of highs and lows for the provinces already this season in the Magners League and European competitions. What have you made of the standard of forward play we’ve seen from the provinces to date, and have any players impressed you?

GS: I don’t want to single out players firstly. In terms of what I see at the moment with the competitions, especially in the Heineken Cup, it’s of a very good intensity.

The barometer of intensity that one would like to see is the one that Leinster and Munster played against each other (at the RDS recently).

IR: Obviously, the majority of the forwards in this extended Ireland squad you have in Limerick this week were coached by Niall O’Donovan previously. What coaching tactics have you adopted, any little quirks that you’ve added to their game?

GS: Obviously I don’t know what Niall did, so I’m just busy with the things that I believe will make it work for us.

There’s also a huge amount of intellectual capital there. You know, it’s not a young team…it’s an experienced team.

I’ve got ideas, they’ve got ideas, we’ll see how we can complement each other and see what’s best for the team.

IR: How have the players adapted to you so far – have they warmed to you and your coaching style?

GS: You’d have to ask them that! All I can say is they’re great players, I’m enjoying working with them and I’m quite excited to be playing our first game and also for the next two, three, four years. 

IR: First up we have the Canada game at Thomond Park Stadium. What can we expect from a Gert Smal-coached pack the first day out? 

GS: The most important thing is just to get good first phase possession, and then we will start pulling it from there. It’s still early days.

The main thing is just to get the team well-organised and get good first phase possession.

IR: And then, of course, the focus will switch to the Croke Park Tests against New Zealand and Argentina. Both tough tasks, have you thought much yet about those games?

GS: For the past couple of months, as coaching staff, you do your homework. As a South African, we’ve played a lot against them so I know them fairly well.

But again, for us, the most important game is the Canada game and that’s what we’re concentrating on.

IR: Do you feel it is as good a time as any to be playing the All Blacks and Pumas at home, with both of their squads having suffered from retirements, injuries and the unavailability of players for this autumn series?

GS: When is not the right time? You know you have to deal with circumstances and whenever you play against them, you must be sure to be at your best.

Because if you want to be one of the best teams in the world, you have to beat the best. 

IR: On the cusp of a new international season, the sense of anticipation is building amongst the fans, coaches and players. Are you excited that the first games are upon us and that you’ll get to see the good work in training hopefully come to fruition on the pitch?

GS: Yeah, that’s the excitement about coaching. When you start putting things together and when you’re thrown under pressure situations and see how players react to it.

I think that’s where you grow as a coach and where you get your satisfaction from.