As the men’s section of Chelmsford Rugby Club welcome a new Senior Coach in Andre Beukes; the Bluebirds have undergone a total restructuring for the new season.
For the last two years, Chelmsford Ladies have been coached in the main by David Ball. Ball led the team with unflinching enthusiasm, in keeping with the role being his first coaching role after leaving university. His focus was largely on open play and, due to a high influx of complete beginners, this was not sufficient for the team to avoid relegation.
Having been demoted from National Challenge East 1 to National Challenge South East (East) 2, and with Ball stepping down to pursue his career, the Bluebirds found themselves in need of a new coach and have struck gold in Matt Whiffin.
Whiffin has long been involved with Chelmsford RFC and retains his role as coach for the under 15s, a role he took on for the first time last season, but relishes the challenge ahead in coaching women rather than teenage boys. Since his appointment as Lead Coach of the Bluebirds, Whiffin has made great strides to build a strong platform for the team to build on this season and his intention is that the Bluebirds will be promoted back to the NC1 league within a season.
Whiffin said of his new position, “I am excited to build on the excellent platform laid by Dave Ball and, along with the new coaching team, will be aiming to make Chelmsford a fun and successful place to play. So far the role has been a really positive experience and I look forward to meeting this challenge head on, and with the full backing of the club.”
It has been clear from the off that Whiffin is driven and passionate about developing this section of the club and he has already been a force of nature in advocating for the Bluebirds and his determination will surely see this team thrive in the coming season.
One of the first things Whiffin did upon his appointment, was to call up Stefania Evans as his Assistant Lead Coach. Evans played for the Bluebirds briefly before she moved to Richmond RFC to play in the Tyrrell’s Premier 15s, where she has enjoyed both the challenge and success she found there. Appointing Evans is a stroke of genius, as the Bluebirds have rarely had the opportunity to work with such an accomplished female coach and, whilst Evans is a friend and former team mate, she is also a genuinely extraordinary role model for the players to have. As well as playing premiership rugby in the UK now, Evans has played rugby all over the world, and is the founder and director of her own female rugby apparel company. With women’s sport on the up, it has never been clearer that representation matters and having a role model like that on the coaching team ought to inspire the players. Of her appointment, Evans said, “I’m so excited to be back with the Bluebirds in a new capacity and helping to grow the game! The Chelmsford women have a lot of talent in their player pool and I’m really looking forward to helping that talent develop, as well as introducing new players to the sport. This is an incredibly exciting time to be involved with women’s rugby; worldwide the sport is growing at a rapid pace and the top levels of the sport are now seeing some female athletes acquiring paid contracts, which is a huge step forward not only for sport, but for equality in general. I believe rugby is a fantastic sport for women and girls to play; it’s all about learning that we’re all in this together and diversity is key: there is no one specific type of athlete or aptitude that we’re after. A successful rugby team needs different types of athleticism, different skillsets, and different body types to succeed and they all need to work together and have each other’s backs, for 80 minutes. It’s incredibly empowering and I’m so excited to share that with new and old players at CRFC!”
Whilst Evans will continue to play for Richmond, she will be joining Whiffin in coaching the Bluebirds and the two coaches have already formulated a plan for the team going forward. Their plan is to bring the focus back to basics and drill the team in set piece areas, bringing much more strength and stability to the scrums, mauls, lineouts, and so on. This strength will allow the pace and skill, which already exists in the back line, to flourish.
Adrian Cuthill has also been appointed to the coaching team. An experienced coach and player, Cuthill has been a part of Chelmsford RFC for as long as anyone can remember, playing for every senior men’s team, coaching and managing most of them at some point and his family have all played for the club too. A true clubman, Cuthill will be an excellent addition to the coaching team. Many of the ladies have received guest coaching sessions from Cuthill at one time or another and the response from players is always a positive one. Cuthill is knowledgeable on the sport but, far more important in many ways, he is able to impart his knowledge and experience with a calm and collected manner that never fails to see results and his experience will be invaluable this season.
Finally, Ceri Hill will return this season as the Backs’ Coach and the only returning member of last year’s coaching team. Hill played for the Bluebirds for several seasons upon moving to the area but chose to retire in 2017/18 after a series of injuries that left her unable to play. She is an experienced scrum half and looks forward to developing her coaching technique in the coming season. The vast wealth of experience and skill on this year’s coaching team will surely see Hill become an excellent coach in her own right and this can only be a positive thing for both Hill and the team.
This is the first time in a long time that the Chelmsford Ladies have had anywhere near this level of enthusiasm and backing, let alone structure. There will be a big focus on recruitment to run alongside the training and the hope is that, inside 12 months, the Bluebirds will grow by at least 25% and face promotion. Certainly, the renewed enthusiasm and optimism is overwhelmingly positive and promises big things for the team and the club.