Former Wales international forward, Rhys Oakley, is revealed as the Hartpury University RFC defence coach ahead of the new Greene King IPA Championship season, which kicks off with Saturday’s home fixture against promoted Richmond Rugby.
Rhys had a playing career that took him from Bristol to Moseley, with three years at the Newport Gwent Dragons and notable spells in the Premiership with both Leeds Tykes and Northampton Saints en route, before arriving at Hartpury in 2015.
He was, famously, skipper of the Hartpury side that won all 30 National 1 fixtures on it’s way to promotion to the Championship in 2017 (only two bonus points dropped) and it was a massive shock to the club when, in the summer of 2018, he was diagnosed with cancer. That, ultimately, brought the curtain down on his playing days – although he has made an excellent recovery following his treatment – allowing him to focus on a developing coaching career.
Now he has a critical job in ensuring that Hartpury remain competitive in the second tier of English professional rugby.
“It’s my first role of this magnitude,” he said. “I was always a very keen defender as a player and had an interest in the various defensive patterns, but this my first experience of it as a coach at this level.”
“Although we’re all very much looking to getting the season under way, I suppose I’ve been very lucky to have such a long period of preparation!”
“As it is, we’ve spent long enough tackling each other, now were ready for some opposition to get stuck in to.”
Rhys is very much a student of the game and has been doing everything he can to ensure that both he, and the team, are ready for whatever the new season brings.
“Apart from relying on my own experience, I’ve been doing a lot reading and looking at other defence coaches. Also looking at other teams and how they defend – just trying to learn as much as I can really.”
“I hope I can bring something new to what we are doing in defence – getting people into the right position to make their tackles and getting them as comfortable as possible as possible in the defensive line, making sure we are working together and not as individuals. At the same time, it’s not about making change for change’s sake – there were plenty of things that we were already doing well.”
“I was happy with the way we went against Gloucester last week. It was our first time with any serious contact and our first time, in a match situation, against a team who were running their own plays – not ours!”
“I was was really pleased with the way that the guys approached the game and with their contact skills after so long. We tackled well overall – very few missed – and we all worked well as a unit.”
“I’ve got a fantastic group of players to work with. They’re pretty young overall, but they’re very willing and very coachable. At the same time, it’s good to have some of the more experienced heads around, as the younger lads look up to them and they can see that we’re all working on the same drills and with the same intensity.”
“The squad contains plenty of lads that I coached when they were coming up through the Under 18s (Oakley previously spent a good deal of time coaching in Hartpury’s highly successful ACE programme) which means that they are getting exactly the same messages from me now as they did a couple of years ago.”
It seems that the Hartpury ‘production line’ continues to be in good hands. We look forward to seeing the results over the coming weeks!