Director of Rugby Aims for the 2015/16 Season

The Royal Navy Rugby Union Director of Rugby, Mark Deller, Lays Down his Aims for the 2015/16 Season

By Mark Walker, the RNRU Director of Communications

Responsible for all RN Representative Rugby outputs, including financial control, performance management, coaching and game preparation, Mark Deller, the RNRU Director of Rugby, is preparing to deliver the RNRU representative teams for the Season ahead.  While his goal is to achieve a creditable winning record in the Inter-Services Championship, before that he has to prepare for the International Defence Rugby Competition (IDRC) and Under 23s Season.  On the eve of the start to the training camp for IDRC I caught up with Mark to talk about his aims for the 2015/16 Season.

Mark Deller

Royal Navy Rugby Union Director of Rugby - Mark Deller

Mark, what is your aim for the Representative area, this season and into the future?

I think largely to follow the strategy that we've put in place. The focus throughout last year was to get the various squads aligned, establish a more coherent approach within the various player groups and create a bit more unity within the union. It's very easy to become stove-piped and insular when the season pressure comes on, and there is a tendency to lose alignment with the other Representative areas as you solve your own problems. Our messaging last season was about creating more transparency between the squads, sharing the information, improving the internal administration and communications flow, making better use of the resource and largely looking to exploit the good stuff and cut out the bad bits. The follow-on work has been to re-engage with the Community area, predominantly bridge the gap between the domestic and the Representative outputs by making the President's XV more of an academy, such that players who have shown well in the Command Competition can continue their progression up towards the Senior XV Representative outputs while building their experience and exposure within a more focused squad. They went on tour to Estonia and demonstrated they were a very competent and coherent group, the future bodes well for Representative outputs.

So you are creating a more efficient coaching and management system to optimise outputs across the Representative area.  While you, as the RNRU DOR retain ultimate responsibility for Representative Rugby outputs, how are you supported in the delivery this responsibility?

This is a team effort - the modern Representative team requires a fair amount of support and the days of chucking 15 shirts into the middle of the changing room are long gone. Each Representative Squad is essentially managed by a Training Support Group, made up of coaches and managers and headed by an Assistant Director of Rugby (ADoR), who fundamentally has responsibility for that particular Naval party. These days we are dealing with sizeable sums of money, and as such there is a definite requirement for some careful supervision while also having a nominated Senior person in charge. Clearly I can't be in attendance in more than one place at a time, so we delegate the responsibility accordingly. Everyone is a volunteer and we all have fairly busy day jobs - and the task of managing these outputs needs to be given very careful consideration as it can definitely cut into the domestic harmony if you're not careful. We've just had some new personalities take up key roles across the squads and I'm sure this season they'll get to experience the RNRU highs and lows!  

By re-engaging with the Community area and bridging the gap between the domestic and the Representative outputs, presumably you are looking to not only sustain, but also grow the Representative player base?   

Definitely. We are quite a small service these days, even under-manned in some quarters and still required to deliver a high Operational tempo. While acknowledging that we are Sailors/Marines first, and specialist rugby players second, it should be no surprise that the players are not always going to be available to us. As such I sense we do need to further broaden our Representative player base, maximise the quality of the wider player pool utilising good coaching and higher level exposure and develop something that can sit more comfortably alongside the constraints of busy Frontline units. Undoubtedly the players are highly motivated, they want to play rugby at the highest level, and we have a great set of coaches in the Service with a real depth of experience ready to coach them - but the problem is getting them all together in the same place at the same time.  I sense if we can establish a better throughput of players, and generate a higher standard of Strength and Conditioning across the union, then we should be in a better position to utilise our full complement more of the time. I'm a great believer that if the player can meet the higher fitness requirements, then the coaches will be able to build a coherent output. 

With more efficient management and coaching and a broader, fitter player base, is it just about beating the Army at Twickenham?

Not really. While some will have you believe that the Representative season is all about one game - for me it's more about the journey the players and coaches undergo and the ability to deliver a performance. It's a bit like a squadron or ship deployment - there are good bits and bad bits - but as long as you come out with meaningful memories and a coherent output, then the journey will have been worthwhile. Building a representative side is very similar - it's a relatively long season and hence the build towards the final phase is gradual and progressive, the player group and coaches are learning about each other all the time and continually working to craft a better output... they see each fixture as a game to perform in, a game to win.  I would hope the players do look back on their season as a whole, and not just the one game; while clearly playing at Twickenham is a highlight and a great experience, it is not the only big experience of the season. We obviously play the RAF (the current inter-service champions!) and that game carries just as much importance as the other IS fixture, it acts as the key to the building Twickenham excitement and is always crucial for us. We also play the French Navy - the Marine Nationale - that fixture is continually building in intensity and playing Les Bleu at Stade Mayol in front of a fully charged French Crowd is no easy task. No our season is not just about Army Navy, it's all about the bits in between that makes the Army Navy.   

Finally, with the Under 23 Season and the International Defence Rugby Competition about to kick off, UK Armed Forces (formally Combined Services) and President’s XV fixtures before Christmas and the Senior XV, Women and Mariners season starting in the New Year, how will you judge success in the 2015/16 Season?

I sense any measure of success should probably be judged a little holistically - amount of effort being put in against the playing outputs delivered. One thing for certain - we now run an extremely long season, almost 12 months year round for some players and staff - it's a lot of effort and securing the players we want is never definite, so consequently we might not always achieve our true potential. Without doubt we aim to deliver a credible playing output while maintaining an enthusiastic relationship and wholehearted support from the units and Commands - if we can keep improving on those credible outputs while generating sustainable pools of players from which to select, then we will have made progress across the area. Royal Navy Rugby Union has undoubtedly moved on - but we still have shortfalls in certain player groups and areas to improve in others - we are not a professional rugby output, we rely heavily on volunteer support and by and large just need all the right people in the right place to really hit our true capability.  That said, we have now established a proper conduit from within the Community area up through the President's XV into the Representative area, and that bodes well for the future generation of Representative rugby.

Looking ahead to the IDRC - this a great opportunity to start the Senior XV IS season early and build to a level of coherency that sets us up nicely for the end of the season. Clearly we have aspirations about where we would like to get to in this competition, but we are in no doubt that this is a massive challenge for a single service output. I know the lads will be up for the challenge and will give their all, for the new boys to the squad this will be a tremendous opportunity to stake a claim for the Senior XV in the 2016 IS competition.  It's a really exciting opportunity and I hope everyone gets to enjoy it. Running parallel will be the U23 season, and having watched their recent training weekend - there is some real talent coming onto the books, talent that will push through quickly to the Senior squad.  The Women are now focussed on generating a larger squad this autumn, and the Mariners will undoubtedly be keeping their powder dry until the time is absolutely right to start the defence of their IS Champions title. There will also be the legacy of the RWC 2015 - I sense this is a great time to be playing Service Rugby.

Our thanks go to Mark for finding time in his busy day job and rugby commitments to share his aims, but without giving too much away to the opposition.  We will catch up with Mark again before the IS Season starts in the New Year.  In the meantime, watch out for an interview with the new Assistant Director of Rugby (U23), Rob O'Kane, ahead of the U23 Season.

And don't forget that running throughout October alongside the Rugby World Cup, the IDRC will pit twelve teams of battle-hardened soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines against each other to determine the greatest Armed Forces rugby team on the planet. Teams from across the world will be hosted by the Royal Navy, the Army and the RAF for pool matches in Portsmouth (Burnaby Road), Aldershot and RAF Halton before the semi-finals and the final are held at The Stoop, home of Harlequins, during the week of the RWC Final.  The opening ceremony will take place at the Portsmouth Guildhall at 11:00 on Monday 05 Oct, with the first match at Burnaby Road on at 15:30 on Wednesday.  For more details see and on Twitter @idrc2015

Article:  Mark Walker

The Royal Navy (Women) playing the Marine Nationale (Feminines) in 2015. Image Alligin Photography © Geraint Ashton Jones
The Senior XV in the 2015 Inter Services fixture against the RAF. Image Alligin Photography © Geraint Ashton Jones
The 2015 Mariners winning the Veterans Inter Service title for the first time since 1996. Image Alligin Photography © Lee Crabb
Royal Navy U23s in the 2014 Inter Service championship. Image Alligin Photography © Geraint Ashton Jones
The 2015 Royal Navy Sharks retaining the North Dorset7s trophy. Image Alligin Photography © John Walton
The Royal Navy President's XV tour of Latvia and Estonia 2015. Image Royal Navy Rugby Union © Mark Deller