Q&A: Micky Ward previews Southern Knights clash
**Q: As a former team-mate of Doddie Weir, what were your memories of him and what was it like being a young whipper-snapper when Doddie was one of the senior pros?**
**Micky Ward:** He’s just a classic, and I smile every time I think about him. As a young lad coming into a professional rugby environment it can be really daunting in terms of dealing with the older pros, but Doddie was absolutely brilliant. Don’t get me wrong, he would keep you on your toes and he was constantly doing wind-ups and things like that, but it was never in an obnoxious way or meant to belittle you at all. He just had the right balance with it all, and even though he was a senior player, a major international and the club captain for part his time here, he was never anyone who felt the need to put you in your place or ram home that status. He had the ability to put you under pressure so that you knew you needed to perform, but in a way that made you love and respect him.
**Q: People know him for his sense of humour and poking fun at himself, but it’s easy to forget what a good player he was and how well respected he was for his rugby ability.**
**MW:** 100%. That was the thing with Doddie. You were having so much fun around him you actually forgot or didn’t realise how hard you were working, and his way of doing it was incredible. Even at Twickenham recently you’ve seen the crowds giving him a massive ovation – for a Scottish international! That just shows the respect and love that people have for Doddie, but he had the ability to drive people on as well as being the guy who made you laugh. As much as he was a character I can remember loads of times when he pulled me up as a young pro for getting a line-out wrong, or not having some part of my preparation spot-on. He was good fun but make no mistake, he set the standards around the club. He didn’t particularly like the gym and he knew all the tricks to get out of training, but he set a culture around the team and would hold you to account. He was nice with it, and just a great bloke all round.
**Q: People even outside of the rugby community really latched on to and admired the way he approached things following his diagnosis of motor neurone disease. How can people show their support?**
**MW:** First things first, it’s a great day of rugby here on Saturday and people will enjoy coming along. There’s the first team game at 1.30pm, the Under-18s at 4.30pm, the Six Nations on TV and a talk-in from the some of the former players which people can register for. Just by turning up you’re already supporting him, but there’ll be loads of ways to donate to his foundation. Everyone says how much of a good bloke Doddie was – well show it by coming along and getting behind his foundation.
**Q: It’s been three weeks since our last game when we beat Connacht 35-21, how have you as coaches managed the squad through that period?**
**MW:** The first week of that three-week block was always intended to be a week off, and then we obviously had the cancellation of last weekend’s game up in Melrose which we found out about on the Thursday. That changed our plans slightly from a training perspective but the lads seem like they’re in a good place, and we’re ready to go. We haven’t got too much on Southern Knights in terms of the video and analysis we’d normally do before a Premiership game, just because their season hasn’t started yet. It just means the focus is entirely on ourselves, which has been different and quite good.
**Q: The fundraising element of Saturday’s game is fantastic and for a great cause, but from a strictly rugby perspective how do you intend to use the fixture?**
**MW:** From a propping point of view, which is where a lot of my input is, we’ve got a number of guys who are itching to get out there. There’s great competition for places and the lads have been playing well, but there are other lads in the group who deserve and need this opportunity to show us what they can do. People like Mark Tampin, Conrad Cade, Conor Kenny and Mark Dormer would be in that bracket of needing an opportunity to play some rugby, and it’s a great chance for them. Further back in the pack we have the likes of Pedro Rubiolo, who hasn’t played a load of rugby since he’s come over here, and for the likes of Matty Dalton and some of those boys they will be putting themselves in the mix for selection. It can be a springboard for a lot of players, and as coaches it’s useful for us to see a number of the group in that match-day scenario.
**Q: How do you reflect on the season so far, which has seen the Falcons beating two of the top three teams in the league, half of the top six and winning your last three home games?**
**MW:** We look at the season in blocks when we sit down as a coaching team, and on the whole we were pretty pleased a fortnight ago when we sat down and reviewed the most recent block. As always there are a couple of things you can tidy up on and become better at, but on the whole the lads have gone well. We’ve got some good challenges coming up with two big away games at Bristol and Saracens, and this could be a defining part of the season for us. The good thing is that after block one we sat down and identified some key things to focus on and improve, and I think for the most part we’ve gone out and done that. Statistically and performance-wise we’re getting better in the areas we’ve been working on, and on the back of that we’ve given ourselves a few extra targets to take it on to the next level.
**Q: Results like beating the champions Leicester and top-half teams like Sale Sharks and Exeter Chiefs might be regarded as surprises by some people. Did it surprise you?**
**MW:** No, not at all. Going into the Leicester game as one example, we were really confident coming into that weekend that we would get the job done, based on the work we’d put in and the quality we’ve got. OK, maybe we were surprised by going so many points ahead so quickly, but when we get our top guys out and everybody’s flying, we’re pretty confident we can challenge anybody. Our attitude is ‘stay nice and tight, and just crack on’, and we can definitely take a few more scalps between now and the end of the season. These next two away games are massive for us at Bristol and Saracens, and if we can combine that with our home form we can really put some pressure on teams in the league table.
**Q: Away from the field, you and the other coaches have become a bit of a social media sensation after we released some footage of you all having Spanish lessons. It was retweeted by the Argentina national team and had more than 25,000 views on twitter alone, but what was your thinking behind starting out with the lessons?**
**MW:** Firstly it’s a bit of fun and the lads have been thinking about it for a while, but the real driver to actually getting it started was when Pedro Rubiolo came over a few weeks ago and couldn’t speak much English. He’s started English lessons with a Spanish teacher from Gosforth Academy, and we just thought it would be good if the same tutor came in and helped us with some Spanish. The truth of the matter is that Matias Orlando, Matias Moroni and Mateo Carreras all speak good English now so there’s no real issue communicating with those guys, but it will help us with Pedro and also just sends a bit of a message about how we’re trying to welcome everybody in. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not as academic as some of the other coaches who pick these things up straightaway, but I’m keen to try, and everyone has bought into it. It’s provided some good banter between the staff, and we’re coming out with a few phrases. I thought Pedro was going to chin Dave Walder the other day because of something he’d said to him, which he got a bit wrong, but I think he’d been stitched up by a some of the other lads from Argentina! It’s all good fun, though, and our teacher Kathleen is really good in the way she goes about things.
We’ve had good links with Argentina for a little while now, and when they were on tour here in November they invited us to go up to Edinburgh and spend a day with them in camp. That was a fantastic experience – they looked after us brilliantly and gave us full access to every meeting, session and everything – and it’s a good relationship to have. It’s even better if we can speak a bit of their language, and it’s just showing basic respect to at least try. If you’re a good player in Argentina and you’ve got the choice of a few English clubs to go to, it could be something as simple as that which helps make your decision.
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