“Every year we try and do a bit more than put our name on the jersey,” Feargal O’Rourke, PwC Ireland Managing Partner.
Throughout a longstanding association with Irish Rugby, and a partnership that was earlier this year extended and expanded through to December 2023, PwC has always been more than a sponsor, the presence of their logo on the front of the Ireland Under-20 jersey always more than a branding opportunity.
PwC’s steadfast support of Irish Rugby – and specifically the Ireland Under-20s, Under-19s and Under-18s, in addition to the National Training Squad programme – has been crucial to the ongoing development of young players, and moreover is intrinsically linked to the success of those underage teams in recent seasons.
While PwC’s investment in the IRFU’s National Training Squad has been critical in the delivery of a world-class programme for young players, leading to indelible days such as the defeat of New Zealand at the 2016 U20 World Championship and last year’s Grand Slam win, the commitment to nurturing talent, growing resilience and supporting ambition off the pitch has been equally important.
In many ways, the IRFU and PwC share the same principles when it comes to talent development and a key part of this partnership has been the introduction, and indeed evolution, of the annual PwC Development Day for the Ireland Under-20 squad at the PwC Offices in Dublin.
This week would have marked the fourth staging of the event and it’s value to the players at a key juncture in their rugby and personal development cannot be understated, with PwC hosting a day of learning that provides a great opportunity for players to continue to develop and work towards reaching their potential, both as a team and as individuals, as their careers progress.
Through a series of employment, career, social media and personality profile workshops, the Ireland Under-20 squads of 2017, 2018 and 2019 have benefited hugely from the experience and expertise of PwC staff, including Sean Lucey, Social Media Marketing and Advertising Strategist with PwC, and Barry Delaney, PwC’s Senior Learning and Development Manager.
“Talent development and supporting people to be the very best they can be is part of our business,” Delaney tells IrishRugby.ie. “When we first introduced this workshop in 2017, the day was heavily focused on professional skills and personal development, but now we have also introduced skills the players can use in real time so communication clinics and social media training have been hugely popular additions.
“The social media session in particular is a key one for us to deliver. We go through this in practical terms and use the same learning techniques and exercises we would with our own staff coming through the PwC Graduate Programme. We teach them how to be mindful of what content they’re putting out there and who they’re representing when they post on social media. The players are really engaged with this topic and it helps them understand their own image, their own brand and what they need to do, or to be mindful of, in order to develop that online.”
Another key part of the Development Day is around professional skills, and in particular interview techniques and communication. While these sessions are designed to primarily equip the players with the necessary know-how for careers away from rugby, it is also imperative to plant the seed as early as possible.
As the IRFU’s National Age Grade Manager and Ireland Under-20s Team Manager, Hendrik Kruger has worked with hundreds of young players down through the years, many of whom have gone on to become senior internationals, but equally just as many, for a range of reasons, who haven’t been so lucky to forge a career in the professional game.
“When the players come into us at Under-20 level, a lot of them have all their eggs in one basket,” Kruger explains. “They love rugby, they’re good at rugby and they want rugby to be their job. But the reality is that more players don’t progress than those that do and it is so important for us to broaden their horizons.
“We always encourage the players to strike a balance between rugby, their academic studies and also their life away from rugby. I always find the players who balance all of that are the ones who stand out and the one example I always give is Garry Ringrose. Even as an Under-20 player, Garry was extremely balanced and we’re trying to build that awareness among the players – you must pay attention to all aspects of your career and personal development.”
The support of PwC in this respect is invaluable and the services and resources in place for players to enhance and fast-track their development ensures the next generation are ready to be the best they can be on the pitch, as well as in their professional career whenever that may be. In addition to the ‘Your Digital Brand’ presentation on social media, the interactive workshops and webinars have previously covered topics such as DiSC personality profiling, goal-setting, and a look at how to be an attractive candidate to future employers.
“The players always see the Development Day as an opportunity to push themselves outside of their comfort zone,” Kruger continues. “Many of them will arrive at the PwC Offices and not want to think about the future because it’s not a reality for them. They’re firm in the belief they have 10-15 years in rugby ahead of them, but every year the squad leaves at the end of the day and their mindset is different because of the experience.
“And even being in the environment of the PwC Office is an experience. To see how things operate, to understand a different industry, to appreciate a workplace. Moreover, one of the big learning opportunities for the players is often the Q&A with PwC staff, who could be playing inter-county GAA or hockey for Ireland. They learn about the discipline, the commitment and the hard work required to balance a professional and sporting career. It can be a real eye-opener for the players.”
Delaney, through his delivery of the sessions and the debriefs afterwards, agrees the day can serve as a ‘light bulb moment’ for the Ireland Under-20s.
“A lot of the players wouldn’t have done any kind of personal development work before so it’s all new,” he adds. “Suddenly they’re getting all these new tools and they can go away and reflect on how best they’ll be able to use those going forward. You do genuinely get a sense of appreciation from the players as it’s something that has helped broaden their views on what they’re good at and what other skills they possess.
“Having worked with the Ireland Under-20s over the last three years, it’s always a pleasure to then be able to watch their performances on the pitch, how they conduct themselves and follow their respective careers. You do feel very proud to be associated with the group and what they represent under Noel McNamara and the management team.
“For us at PwC, it’s a very rewarding and very humbling experience because you know some of the players will go on to achieve great things in green, but at the same time they’re just ordinary human beings trying to find their way in life, and that’s ultimately our role to help support them in whatever way we can.”