Holm Truths: Windo wants to build scrum-thing special
Unity is everything in the bid for the perfect scrummage.
Specialist Kingsholm coach Tony Windo explains how breaking down the scrum and building it back together is keeping Gloucester in good order up front.
GLOUCESTER'S front-rowers are ganging up on each other in training – all under the watchful eye of scrum coach Tony Windo.
Former Cherry and Whites stalwart Windo returned to his hometown club in the summer after a long stint with Worcester Warriors.
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When the Bromsgrove School rugby director assumed the part-time scrum coaching role, he was delighted to discover precious little had changed.
All the history and tradition had been upheld – including some feisty scrummaging sessions in training.
Professional intensity means no Premiership side can spend hours hitting lumps out of each other in full-on scrums.
So Windo breaks the Cherry and Whites forwards into groups, for smaller scrum exercises.
Two-on-one or three-on-two mini scrums allow the Kingsholm men to focus on individual points of technique that are harder to spot in the full eight-on-eight melee.
So far so good. Gloucester's near-imperious scrummage has been one of the chief weapons of rugby director Nigel Davies' tenure.
But Windo firmly believes the better Gloucester get, the bigger the challenge becomes from their foes.
He explained: "The balance of practical and theoretical or analytical work is probably about 60-40.
"We break the scrum down into sections in training, in live scrummaging, and we will have three against two and things like that.
"The most important thing to scrummaging is that you have all eight men doing the same thing at the same time.
"That's definitely not half as easy as it sounds, so it takes time to build those systems and similar methods.
"So we break the scrum into different sections for live work, then bring it all together.
"I am quite methodical with my approach, so I will take time on each specific element, to make sure we get it right before we build the next part in.
"There are times in the season when you can do a lot of live scrimmaging, and pre-season is certainly a good chance.
"But these days you can't do half an hour of live scrummaging with two packs going at it twice a week.
"The players would just be shot by Christmas.
"But we do do that, and we certainly do that if problems arise and we need to solve them.
"I've been very pleased with the pack's ability to react to situations that happen on the field, with the team solving problems in the middle of matches.
"That's been a good feature of things so far.
"I've said to the players that the perfect scenario would be one where they don't need me any more.
"That would obviously put me out of a job, and clearly I don't want that, but the point I was making was that the more reactive they can be on the field, the better.
"Every side will always come up against problems in matches, and the best sides find ways to get around them and deal with them.
"The more scenarios the players have been through, the more experience they have and the more chance of that happening there is.
"But we try to work through certain things in training, to try to boost that too."
Gloucester's young front-row trio Yann Thomas, Koree Britton and Shaun Knight impressed in the Cherry and Whites' 11-6 Amlin Challenge Cup victory in Mont de Marsan on Thursday.
A week earlier Nick Wood, Huia Edmonds and Rupert Harden fended off a strong scrummaging display from Bath to help Gloucester register a fifth-straight West Country derby win.
Windo revealed Bath spent a day's focus on their scrum in the derby build-up – and he said that's how desperate sides will become the more powerful Gloucester force their pack play.
He continued: "We've had a reasonable start, and when that happens other teams and opponents start looking at you more closely, and responding more to that.
"So you might get better and keep improving, but the challenge and the job only gets harder as a result of that improvement.
"Bath spent a day live scrummaging in Cardiff last week ahead of the derby match in preparation.
"That's a big compliment to how we had performed in the scrum up to that point.
"But it's also indicative of how hard teams will work and what lengths they will go to.
"And we have to keep working even harder than that, to stay on top of things on that front.
"So as reputations grow the challenge just gets harder and harder, not easier."
Relishing his Gloucester return, Windo said the club's consistency over the years remains central to its success.
He added: "There have been a lot of changes at Gloucester in the times between I was here last and coming back now, that's natural.
"But the general things, and the overall feel of the club, that's still pretty much exactly the same.
"And that's great.
"A club like Gloucester with its history and tradition and the passion of the fans, it shouldn't really change all that much, but it was great to come back and find out that it hadn't.
"It's as much testament to the supporters as anything that that's the case.
"But the staff, coaches and players work very hard to uphold traditions too.
"Nigel Davies has been brilliant in working out the club's history and making sure traditions are continued, and Carl Hogg has taken to Gloucester life so well he says 'mind' at the end of every sentence now!"
SCHOOL HAVE BEEN FANTASTIC OVER DUAL ROLE
A HECTIC schedule is a small price to pay for juggling two first-rate jobs, believes Tony Windo.
Gloucester’s scrum coach is with the Cherry and Whites two mornings a week, fitting his Kingsholm commitments around his full-time role as Bromsgrove School’s director of rugby.
Windo admits he owes the school a big debt of gratitude, for allowing him to organise his time to fit in both roles.
He explained: “I’ve got to say a big thank you to Bromsgrove School, because they have been fantastic in allowing me to do this.
“I’m at Gloucester two mornings a week, and they have allowed me to take that time, which is brilliant.
“It means I have more work to do in the evenings, but I’m really enjoying the role at Gloucester, and combining that with working at the school, so it’s certainly no chore.
“I think we’ve only just started on where this group of players can go where the scrum is concerned at Gloucester, and it’s a very exciting time ahead and challenge to keep on improving.”
Keen to help Gloucester’s scrum contingent towards potential international honours, Windo said there is a healthy rivalry at the club.
He continued: “I would love to see Gloucester players winning opportunities with England, I’d love to help them get there.
“Rupert (Harden) had a taste in the summer, there’s still plenty of time for Nick Wood, and Shaun Knight is coming along very nicely.
“Dan Murphy and Woody are having a great battle at loosehead this year, though, and there’s a huge amount of talent in the squad.
“The battles between the players are intense, but all the players are totally supportive of each other, and it’s great to see.
“They are 100 per cent working together, there’s no cliques or divisions, and I think that will be massively important come the latter end of the season.
“Everyone wants Gloucester to succeed first and foremost, and that’s the vital thing.”