“Please don’t go, please don’t go, I’m begging you to stay”. These words from Nineties pop-philosophers KWS perfectly encapsulate how Scarlets fans feel about losing their head coach, Brad Mooar, to the All Blacks.
In truth, there has been a stoicism among fans at his departure, but his trajectory has been expeditious. Mooar was barely known to the Welsh rugby public on his appointment just over a year ago, but just six months into what will be a 12-month sabbatical, after pitching up with an easy smile and adidas Gazelle’s, it’s clear his impact has been profound.
The 45-year old former lawyer and players agent (he used to represent Hadleigh Parkes) has galvanised a squad and constructed a feel-good factor at Parc y Scarlets that is to be commended.
In fact, there has been precious little drop off since he decided the pull of returning home to address his nation’s call was too strong, with the Scarlets topping the regional Guinness PRO14 points-chart after three rounds of hard-fought local derbies.
In all, Mooar has steered his squad to a creditable ten wins in 14 games when shorn of up to 20 World Cup stars, and his record looks even rosier when you consider his own future was subject to public debate until an official announcement was made on Christmas Eve. In a short space of time, he has engendered a powerful team spirit, with the squad donning Peaky Blinders caps and shown himself to be a shrewd tactician and man manager.
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Speaking to Mooar in Cardiff before Christmas, he gave RugbyPass an insight into his coaching methodology that so impressed new All Blacks head coach Ian Foster. This after five years working as attack coach for the Canterbury Crusaders, the last three under Scott Robertson. It was clear that beneath the carefree charisma, there was steel and a rich intellect to a man who will ironically be tasked with plotting Wales’ downfall in this summer’s tour Test series.
Importantly, Mooar’s ethos chimed with the way the Scarlets, as a region, have traditionally liked to position themselves, namely as side who play with élan and brio. Nigel Short, the Scarlets chief executive, deserves praise for his recruitment because he provided the perfect segue from departing Welsh duo Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones. Mooar, for his part, comes across as a modern, progressive thinker when discussing the game.
“I have aspirations but ultimately, I want my teams to dominate and be consistent knock-out performers”, he enthused when talking with RugbyPass. “Look at how the Crusaders played the last few years. When coaching attack, you want players to see opportunities wherever they are on the field, to attack the space. You do your thinking during the week but when it’s game time, it’s basically the stage for the players to back themselves and enjoy it.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 9, 2019
The Scarlets have certainly enjoyed themselves, with the six-try destruction of the sorry Ospreys, a high-point. Mooar has accomplished this by coaxing the most out of the collective but also sparking stellar form from unheralded players.
Take Uzair Cassiem, a bullocking back row. He is well on his way to cult hero status with Scarlets fans for his exuberant post-match celebrations, while dependable squad players like Steff Hughes and Josh McLeod have been mentioned in dispatches for Wales call-ups. He has also overseen young squad members like Ryan Conbeer, Angus O’Brien and Kieran Hardy thrive in the absence of established Wales stars.
The Scarlets coach can do pragmatic, too, as witnessed with the mature 16-14 win over an adventurous Cardiff Blues but ultimately his skill has been to handle his charges with tact and empathy. Steff Evans, the livewire wing, endured a difficult ‘second’ season under Wayne Pivac but he has blossomed this season, beating more defenders than any other player in the PRO14 (33) and tying with Conbeer (eleven) for clean breaks.
Mooar offers sage advice to those feeling on periphery of the bright lights. “Unfortunately, the nature of this business is you’re going to miss out and selection is ultimately one person’s opinion. We have 23 guys that go and play and another 25 to 30 guys who don’t get to represent the region but who are critical in getting the side prepared.”
As for the likes of Rob Evans and Samson Lee, overlooked for World Cup duty, Mooar says no particular motivation was needed to gee them up. “We haven’t had to pump up their tyres, just give them an environment where they are happy to work. We want them to be the best version of themselves. They are class players. If someone makes a selection, it doesn’t make you a worse player, it means not for you right now.”
Mooar, who is in his first top-level head coaching job, says his role has been to keep it as simple as possible, to give players the confidence to believe they can express themselves without fear of retribution. “You hear about players who are punished for mistakes. Well, that doesn’t sit well with me.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 16, 2019
“I don’t think you get the best out of anybody that way. We all strive to be better every day and we do that through accountability, clarity of role and vision. If we spend all our time talking to players or people about what they can’t do it can be self-fulfilling, I’d rather go the other way.”
With the clock now ticking on Mooar’s West Wales sojourn, Scarlets fans should revel in his bonhomie and acute attacking brain while taking solace in the fact they have some kitty in the bank and leverage with the All Blacks after the announcement that, ‘as part of the agreement, Scarlets and New Zealand Rugby will explore high-performance partnership opportunities with each other in the coming years’. This could mean some gifted Baby Blacks find their way 12,000 miles from home in the coming years, to bolster operations.
As for the future, is it too fanciful to think that after the 2023 World Cup Mooar will find himself wanted back in Wales, this time as head coach of an entire nation? Steve Hansen and Graham Henry benefitted hugely from their time there and Mooar appears to be cut from the same cloth.
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One thing is for sure, while Mooar has been welcomed with open arms ‘down West’, the region, which has similarities with New Zealand, has left a lasting impression on him. “There are lots of sheep”, he laughed.
“But seriously, the landscape is very green, there are beautiful coastal walks and the people love authenticity and a down-to-earth nature. I’m well-aware of my obligations but I’m just a bloke doing what I love. I take the job very seriously, but not ourselves too seriously. Ultimately, I’m a son, a brother, a father, a husband, that’s my identity. Rugby doesn’t define me.”
New Zealand’s prodigal son will soon return, cloth cap in hand, with Sosban Fach ringing in his ears but with an open invite to return once again, perhaps to address unfinished business.
WATCH: RugbyPass travelled to Brecon to see how life after rugby is treating Andy Powell, one of Welsh rugby’s biggest characters on and off the pitch
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