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The Dai Young lesson feeding into this weekend's Millard plan for Harlequins

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Juan Gasparini/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Saturday’s Ashton Gate clash, which pits Pat Lam versus Billy Millard when Bristol host Harlequins in the Gallagher Premiership semi-final, is illustrative of how genuinely small the rugby world really is. You might be hard-pressed to twig what connects a former Samoan international forward with an average Australian club out-half, but their bond is more than cordial even if the line of communication has gone quiet this week.

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The pair have never worked together but their connection stems from Ireland where Millard’s two-year stint as Connacht backs coach ended with a switch to USA rugby just as Lam arrived in Galway in 2013 to work his magic and turn the unfashionable province into league title winners at the end of his third year.

The connection emerged at this week’s Harlequins media briefing ahead of the Premiership semi-final when Millard was asked for his assessment of the threat posed by Bristol, the league’s first-place finishers. “They can play,” said the Harlequins general manager. “I actually coached with their attack coach in Connacht.

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“He’s a good friend of mine, Conor McPhillips, a very smart coach, loves to play but they can get direct as well. They have got a very good set-piece, they have got serious ball carriers so it’s not going to be a free-for-all. They are able to mix it very physically upfront and get direct off launch plays.”

Asked to elaborate on the McPhillips connection, Millard added: “I coached with Conor in Connacht. He was head of analysis and John Muldoon (another current Bristol assistant) was our captain. I left just before Pat started but Pat lived near my in-laws’ house in Galway. I married a Galway girl, so Pat and I have a pretty cool relationship as well. I haven’t actually spoken to him this week. Usually, there are a few WhatsApps flying around but I’ll catch him on Saturday before the game. Great guys, good coaches and I shared some good times with them.”    

Without a head of rugby since the departure of Paul Gustard in January, Millard said an unveiling would soon take place at Harlequins. “We’re just trying to get our timing right. There should be an announcement definitely in the next fortnight so watch this space I guess.” 

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In the meantime, Harlequins will seek to reach a first Premiership final since 2012, the only time they became champions of England. Heading away to Bristol is the sort of showpiece event that could mentally overwhelm them, but Millard is conscious from his Cardiff days of the need to channel emotions in the best way possible.  

“Honestly the emotion of the occasion takes care of itself,” he reckoned. “I remember being involved in the Cardiff Blues, I was coaching that semi-final when we had the kick-off (the lost 2009 penalty shootout against Leicester). I coached in the (2010 Challenge Cup) final down in Marseille when we beat a star-studded Toulon team and Dai Young taught me that in these big games you don’t want to over-emphasise the emotion because you can tip over the edge. 

“The boys know the occasion and what is at stake here and we have a few little things planned to tap into our ancestors and the history of the club just to make it feel a little bit different, but you don’t need to tell them too much because they well and truly know what the occasion is about and if you overplay that you can tip on the wrong side of emotion.”

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The Dai Young lesson feeding into this weekend's Millard plan for Harlequins

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