Maggs wants to be the best he can be
KEVIN MAGGS is in his office at Billesley Common, Birmingham, reflecting on Moseley’s first victory of the season at the weekend in week three of the RFU Championship, English club rugby’s second tier.
Beating divisional newcomers Jersey has appeased some of the frustration that lingered in the wake of defeats to Bedford Blues and Nottingham. The dress rehearsal, pre-season outings, had augured well especially in the context of the summer turnover in personnel: 18 new players joined the first-team roster.
It appears a far cry from the elite playing days of the Bristol-born, Ireland international who won 70 caps in the green jersey, scoring 15 tries and playing alongside his good friend Brian O’Driscoll in the centre. Maggs excelled for Ireland, a ferocious, wholehearted competitor; the same virtues he brought to Bristol, Bath, Ulster and Bristol again until the latter released him, paying off the last four months of his contract, in 2009.
At that point rugby must have seemed incidental as his baby daughter Jessica was fighting leukaemia, a battle she tragically lost in December, 2010. He linked up with the Rotherham Titans, to help out the coach, a friend, for the final throes of their campaign which saw them win their last seven games to avoid relegation.
The following season he was employed as assistant coach. Rotherham, embroiled in a relegation battle again, survived but appointed Andre Bester as head coach for the next season and Maggs elected to move to Moseley.
The 38-year-old is now in his second season as head coach with the Birmingham club. He occasionally casts an envious glance at the bankroll available to some of his rivals but is energised by the challenge. He is an English RFU level-three qualified coach, having gone through four years of continuous assessment to achieve the qualification.
The transformation from elite player to embryonic head coach has been “a massive learning curve”. He explains: “It’s enjoyable, it’s tough and it’s different, a lot different, from being a player where everything was done for you and you didn’t have to think about too many things outside playing.
“As a coach you have to justify every expenditure right down to the cost of tape. What you achieved as a player is irrelevant. You will succeed or fail on the strength of your ability as a coach.”
So what style of rugby does he advocate as a coach? He chuckles: “I like them to play a good brand of rugby, adapting to what they see in front of them but it’s fair to say that I want them to be physical and confrontational. We’ve scored some really good tries and during my time beaten Bristol and London Welsh. This is a new side and it’ll take a while to gel properly.”
There is a little more latitude this season as only one team will be relegated. He tries to take a back seat in the dressingroom up to a point but confesses he finds it “difficult” to rein in his passion.
“I’d like to think that I treat players the way I wanted to be treated as a player. I learned a hell of a lot of things along the way and you do draw on experiences.”
He’s got three Ireland-qualified players at the club, all English born, tighthead prop Craig Voicey, scrumhalf Sam Brown and Caolan Ryan, a young outhalf/centre/fullback, whom he rates highly.
He genuinely belies the championship – it contains significant numbers of Irish born and qualified players – represents “a big breeding ground for Premiership clubs”.
Gloucester and England trio Charlie Sharples, Henry Trinder and Johnny May all cut their playing teeth with Moseley. “You can do all the gym work you like but nothing beats playing. The A league for Premiership clubs has five matches, a semi-final and a final. That’s not enough games and that’s why many of their players are sent to play in the championship.”
He is in touch regularly with his former Ireland team-mates, pointing out the impressive coaching pedigree of some of his contemporaries, Conor O’Shea, Simon Easterby, Eric Elwood, David Humphreys and Guy Easterby. “For me, playing for Ireland was the greatest honour, a fabulous part of my life and one that I will always cherish. As far as coaching goes I am ambitious. It is early days but I am enjoying it; I just want to be the best I can be.”