Rugby legends pass on skills and knowledge to Ballyclare High players

What do you get when you mix a group of young front rowers from Ballyclare High School with an Ulster Rugby development officer, a fly-half, an Ulster Academy player, a former Ireland international and an All Black?

Jerry Flannery sharing throw-in skills knowledge with Ballyclare High School.

Delivering rugby has had its challenges this past 12 months and most recently Ballyclare High School has gone to new lengths to inject some enthusiasm and educate a group of young players on how to become better whilst off school and training remotely.

The school’s director of rugby, Mike Orchin-McKeever, provided a flavor of the sessions which included former Munster and Irish international hooker Jerry Flannery and a group of front row forwards of the Medallion squad. The aim, Mike noted, was to challenge them all to learn how to throw.

“This is something that we would deliver each year at school to U14 and Medallion level, with the aim of broadening a skill set to a player and to provide them with more options in play,” said Mike, who is also Ballyclare Rugby Football Club head coach and has completed this exercise with a few players over the years, namely Dean Jones and Jack Black and most recently at school Owen Warren who has been identified by Ulster Rugby as a player of potential as a tight head prop but throws into the school lineout.

All Black James Parsons gave an insight to mental preparation.

“The aim is create players who enjoy playing the game and have well rounded skillsets. It also allows players to transition into other positions within the game.”

Mike continued: “Through personal connections I invited guys to join us and share stories. Daryl Maxwell as Ulster Rugby development officer assisted with training in different conditions and training scenarios.

“James McCormick, Ulster Academy and a hooker, talked about his journey from school into the Ulster senior squad, chatted on how he prepares himself for throwing and the physicality of the game. “

A curve ball was thrown or ‘kicked’ at the boys when Bruce Houston, a fly-half, was invited to deliver on why, when and how to kick in a game.

Ballyclare in action before lockdown.

“My thinking here was into provide support for a player to understand how to kick if the opportunity presented itself in the game but also to understand the value of the set piece so we can tactically kick and not that they just kick it away or ponder why they stand and kick in training.”

Two former internationals completed the video calls, former Munster and Ireland hooker, Jerry Flannery and then All Black James Parsons.

Mike said: “Jerry chatted on their role in the game as a whole, being able to upskill on catch, pass, tackle and encouraged them all to develop their throw but enjoy playing the game.

“A big factor was the importance of working on strengths and weaknesses, highlighting Paul O’Connell (former Ireland international) as a strong standard setter at training the squad.

Young players showing their enthusiasm for the game at a pre-lockdown session.

“James gave a superb insight to the mental preparation he put into his rugby and the qualities of leadership from the likes of Richie McCaw (former New Zealand international). He is also a fan of competition in training to reflect the challenges in game day.

“Jerry is a great thinker of the game and I’d listen to him on podcasts. He’s also really enjoying coaching at Harlequins. And James is a Kiwi legend, playing for the ABs, being only one of three players to become an Auckland Blues centurion and achieve the same with North Harbour too.

“It has been a fun and different teaching and learning experience for me to deliver to the players but they have responded so well. At the same time, can’t wait to get back on the paddock soon.”

Some of the participants provided positive feedback on the programme too.

“I could have stayed on all day listening to his stories, thought it was really good,” said Owen Warren on Jerry Flannery

“It was interesting to hear how to get in the mindset for a game,” commented James Cochrane on James Parsons.

“It has been brilliant,” Ewan Jones summed up.