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Chris Ward – Premierships Rugby Scholarships programme a game-changer for Philadelphia coach

Chris Ward – Premierships Rugby Scholarships programme a game-changer for Philadelphia coach

Chris Ward would go to great lengths to peek behind the curtain of England’s top rugby clubs once again, as part of the Premiership Rugby Scholarship programme.

The 46-year-old was one of 14 coaches that travelled across the pond, in March, as part of a ground-breaking initiative run by Premiership Rugby in partnership with the Friends of the British Council and USA Rugby that aims to grow the sport in the US.

Ward, who coaches at Blackthorn High School, Pennsylvania, around 25 miles northeast of downtown Philadelphia, visited Harlequins, Saracens and London Irish, as well as Twickenham Stadium and the Rugby School, for a series of exclusive coaching clinics.

And how he would love to do it all again.

“If I had unlimited funds, I still wouldn’t have got the access that we got during the trip,” said Ward.

“We went to the Rugby School, we went to the O2, we had a drinks reception at the House of Commons, we toured London – these are all things that I wouldn’t be able to do if I went by myself.

“I wouldn’t be able to walk on the field at London Irish, I wouldn’t have four hours with the Quins development coaches. You won’t see that.

“That’s what makes it a game-changer for me. It’s not just the rugby part of it, which was great, and it’s not just the culture side of it, which was also fabulous, but the way that it was combined and how deep we got to go.”

In September 2017, Ward took a young Blackthorn High School rugby side to play at the Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia in the build-up to Saracens’ 29-7 win over Newcastle Falcons – it was there that he first learned of the Premiership Rugby Scholarship programme.

Ward and his fellow coaches were also joined by 16 US-based players and the scheme had a major impact on his approach to mentoring young players.

He said: “My big pull-through was not so much about what to do but what not to do.

“That was my theme throughout the week – I was checking what my style was and how different my approach was, so when I came home I spent a lot of time working on those things.

“The biggest thing that I saw was letting the players take the ownership.

“The coaches are there to coach and mentor. It’s not so much about instruction – you do A, then B, then C – it’s setting up games to really make the players think about how they need to play the game.

“All the coaches they had available to us were extremely open with their time.

“I was particularly impressed with the guys from Saracens because they gave us the day. They let us in on the captain’s run and they signed and spoke to everyone for at least another hour after we toured the facility.

“We got kitted up and went out on the field, and we did our clinics. They wanted us to succeed and I felt that personally, so that was, to me, one of the big things too.”

Are you a US-based coach?. Would you like to win a Premiership Rugby Scholarship and win a trip of a lifetime like Chris? See all the details

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