Steve Commander, National Coach between 2005 and 2009 reflects on his time at the helm of Wales Deaf Rugby.
A scary moment for me was walking into the interview to gain the opportunity of coaching a Rugby team, which represented one of the greatest Rugby playing nations in the world.
After a suitable grilling, I was offered that opportunity. I took Wales Deaf into a very short campaign in preparation to host the Japanese in Wales.
I remember my selection being met with a few frowns, as the mix of youth and experience was not really what others had expected.
This game saw 6 new starts and 4 new caps for Wales and every person who was part of Wales Deaf that day, I believe, realised they were part of a new era in Welsh Deaf Rugby.
The next season was one of development and growing. Gwynne Griffiths put in place a fitness and testing regime that would be both challenging and rewarding for the individual and the squad.
I put in place a strategy of engagement, what does that mean?
Well, instead of just communicating what I wanted to the players and then allowing them to interpret that information, I set about making them part of my strategy. Allowing them to grow the style of play that best suited them, rather than impose my beliefs on them.
The combination of fitness, a feeling of being part of something they owned and some fantastic team management from Geraint John, meant that the team began to thrive within WDRU.
Since being coach of Wales Deaf I maintained a 100% record against Deaf opposition and enjoyed a more that successful record against quality hearing opposition. However, what is clear to me as a coach is that none of this craftsmanship would have been possible without quality tools to work with.
A committee who collectively all want the same thing - a successful WDRU. A backroom staff who have allowed free-flow to take place, people like John, Pete Evans and Richard Williams before him, people like Paul Lewis, a founder and stalwart of Deaf Rugby in Wales, people like Lyndsey, Keith, Val, Geraint Morgan, Leah etc.
Most of all, I think of the people I have worked closest with: Geraint John has highlighted to me skills that I thought I had in abundance, but he showed me what it truly means to be patient, tolerant and have humility that is second to none, he is without doubt a man among men and Wales Deaf are very lucky to have him.
Gwynne needs no accolade from me, his record speaks for itself and I feel privileged to have worked with someone who has been there, seen it, and done it!
Tyrone, ah Tyrone - This giant of a man is one of the keys to the future of WDRU. He is a passionate and caring man who only wants the best for the players he coaches. He has no ambition beyond success for those he is helping, and is as good as they come when it comes to getting the best out of players. At this point, it would be amiss of me not to mention the die-hard supporters who have always believed in WDRU, people like Wyn John, Neal Harrop and many others.
My final reflection is on the players I have worked with. I remember coming in and having young thrusters like Gareth John, Tim Parkinson and not so young thrusters like Gareth Thomas, Nigel Francis, Andy Rees, Richard Watkins, Chris Haddock and Mark Withey. These were guys who were waiting to be moulded into a squad of players who could be the pride of Wales, and they are! I enjoyed watching players like Damian David grow from a 17 year old wanabe to a Wales Deaf International, players like Ian Rowberry who I had written off as a failure, come back and prove me wrong in such a way that he is now a permanent fixture in his chosen position.
I have seen players move from relative mediocrity into Premier Rugby, and with the help of hearsay and intelligence from others we have discovered people like Adam Brake and watched him grow into a player who with hard work could play Regional Rugby. In particular I have to think about the two guys who have skippered WDRU in my time, Mat Campbell and James Evans. Their passion and drive has helped the management team to maintain the lines of communication and keep the focus of players who may have otherwise dropped off the radar.
The only thing left for me to say is that the future of WDRU is bright. We have a new batch of young players coming through such as Sion Harris and Scott Pearson who both gained their first cap against England this year, and the players who are left are still young enough to allow these youngsters to grow around them. Overall I had a fantastic four years and my successor whoever it may be, will be inheriting a ship that although rocky at times, will always sail in the right direction.
A great four years! Thank you boys!