Rugby Blindside Q&A with Joe Brace,
Head Coach at Southwark RFC
A little about you… Can you tell us a bit about your background?
As a Junior I played for Welwyn, Saracens and my school (chancellors). I have played Senior rugby since 2005 where I played for Welwyn until 2013. I had 18 months away from the game after suffering a knee injury (dislocation and ligament damage)
I then played for Verulamians from 2015-2017 when I semi-retired from playing.
I played as high as level 6 during my time. From 2006-2017 I also played Rugby league in the summer months for St Albans Centurions (although only a couple of games a year between 2015-2017).
I started coaching in 2016 as Joint Coach and then Head Coach of a 7s side. Then I moved to coaching full time 15s with Southwark.
How did you first get involved with Southwark Rugby Club?
I was looking for a Head Coach role where I could work with players and help develop a club, I knew Southwark were looking so got in touch with the Chairman.
I had an offer from a club much closer to home in Essex at the same time as Southwark offered me the job, but I was excited about the potential of working with a club still in its infancy and that, in my opinion, had not fulfilled its potential on the pitch in recent years.
What do you enjoy most about the role as Head Coach?
I get the most satisfaction from seeing the players after winning a game on a Saturday. Being a part of that is hugely rewarding and makes all the training sessions in freezing winter rain worthwhile!
Working with players individually on their development is what I am most passionate about. Putting together game plans and playing strategy is great but ultimately as a coach your duty is to the players and to help them, as individuals, become the best player they can be.
In April we won our last game of the season to secure 3rd place in the league which was the clubs highest ever finishing position, along with the highest points and trys scored in a season. Seeing the Lads celebrating on the pitch and into the evening after that game really makes you realise how lucky you are to be involved in this game.
Southwark Rugby Club is a relatively young club, being founded in 2008, what are the main challenges the club faces in this respect?
The main challenges would be the lack of infrastructure. As yet we do not have fixed floodlights and we set up our own prior to training each Tues & Thurs. The club is also still working on making the clubhouse a more usable space.
And a lack of sponsorship / investment. It’s something that I know the committee and club officials are working hard on but we work on a very tight budget. If there are any business’s in London looking to get involved in Rugby sponsorship then I would urge them to get in touch as the club has a fantastic amount to offer as a partner!
Your club is based in Central London, does this help or hinder player recruitment and retention?
We have a huge catchment area based on our Location (Burgess Park – 15 minutes from the city) but retaining players has historically always been a problem for the club.
We (myself and Backs coach Jonny Adams) have worked hard to address this over the past season and as a result have retained 95% of our Senior squad from last year.
We have done this by ensuring the environment and culture is one that players want to be involved with, and that the rugby we play is an enjoyable brand. Ultimately though, players rarely leave winning teams so our focus was to get good results on the pitch. Fortunately we are working with an incredibly talented group and had a fantastic season.
Can you tell us about the Southwark Rugby Club school rugby programme?
The SRFC community coaching program was developed to promote and sustain rugby in an area previously devoid of rugby opportunities.
Coaches work in 4 secondary schools within close proximity to the club’s pitches, working with year 7 & 8 pupils to create a school team that plays regular fixtures against the other schools in the program.
The initiative is sponsored by Big Yellow Self Storage and has been hugely successful over the past 2 seasons with over 220 pupils taking part.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring coaches, especially those who want to work at a grassroots level?
I would say to seek as much advice as possible. Observe other coaches / teams training, learn everything you can (even if it doesn’t seem useful or fit in with your rugby philosophy) the more knowledge you have the better coach you will be and ultimately be able to help more players improve and enjoy their rugby.
I’m quite early into my coaching career so I am always talking to other more experienced coaches and watching as much rugby as I can (Im currently watching the Essex & Herts County matches at weekends).
Ultimately though, I think the most important thing for any new or aspiring coach is to make sure you enjoy it. If you are enjoying it then its most likely that the players are too, and that’s what its all about.
Where do you see the club in 10 years’ time?
I think the club has such fantastic potential. Next season we will have two fully floodlit 4G pitches to play and train on and that will be huge for the club.
There is no reason why Southwark can’t be a well established Level 6 club in 10 years’ time and fielding 5 Senior sides each week.