Class in session for new attack coach Bell
What do Sir Ian McGeechan, Wayne Smith and Stuart Lancaster all have in common?
Those that answered teaching may go to the top of the class, with each member of that successful trio having worked in education prior to their successes as coaches. It’s a connection that the newest member of the Glasgow Warriors coaching team knows extremely well.
“In teaching I was working with young kids, and now I’m working with big kids!” laughed Jonny Bell.
“They’re very similar roles – particularly in the generation of coaches before me, there were a lot of teachers. The two do lend themselves to each other; you have to have a knowledge base and an affinity with those you’re working with, but more than that you have to be able to work and communicate with people and make sure you’re able to get your point across.
“I loved my time as a teacher – I finished playing in 2006 and did a PGCE, so it was nice to take a step out of the rugby bubble. I’d started my rugby coaching career alongside that, with coaching at Dungannon, and the school I was at is a big rugby school.
“There was then a chance to get involved with the Ulster academy, which I felt was a good opportunity and one I didn’t want to regret in 30 years time. From there I just progressed through the ranks, really.”
It’s a progression that’s seen the former Ireland centre excel at Ulster, before catching the eye of many an observer during a five-year spell at Gloucester in the English Premiership. When the opportunity to join the Warriors arose, however, it was one that Bell was keen to grab with both hands.
“I felt ready for a change from my side – I’d been at Gloucester for five years and absolutely loved my time there, but I felt it was time for something different,” he explained.
“Danny [Wilson] made contact, we had a meeting and a chat about things and got on very well. He was looking for an attack coach, and it was an exciting opportunity to come up and take on the challenge. I’ve always worked closely with attack coaches, and I’ve watched shed-loads of attack footage as a defence coach when trying to work out how to stop the opposition.
“Throughout my coaching career, I’ve never been in an environment where you only look and focus on one area. I’ve worked with some outstanding attack coaches and head coaches, and I’ve spent a lot of time as a defence coach looking at opposition attacks. I know the game, as well – I’ve been in the game as both a player and a coach for a long time, which probably shows my age!”
With all eyes firmly fixed on next month’s double-header with Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield, Bell and his new colleagues have been taking charge of training at Scotstoun for the first time since rugby’s suspension this week. It may be an unusual time to start in a new role, but the man himself is embracing the challenge.
“It’s been great – it’s obviously a totally different situation to what anyone involved in professional rugby is used to at the moment, but I’m loving it so far,” enthused Bell.
“It was a strange way to finish at Gloucester and not getting a chance to say a proper goodbye to people I’d worked with for so long, and then it was the same coming up to Glasgow.
“There were a lot of Zoom calls with management, and then the same again with the players over the last few weeks, so it was a case of getting to know everyone through a screen! It was good to get out and meet everyone face to face – they’re a great bunch, really welcoming and good fun.
“I think they were all glad to be back together again as well!
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Glasgow’s new attack coach comes into a club whose fans are well accustomed to the attacking capabilities of their side, something of which Bell is already fully aware from his rugby journey to date. Fulsome in his praise of predecessor Jason O’Halloran, it’ll be an evolution rather than a revolution when it comes to what fans can expect from Bell over the coming months.
“Ever since I was a player, Glasgow have been a team that have been a real attacking threat,” explained Bell.
“I’m coming in on the back of some fantastic work that Dave [Rennie] and Jason have done already, and with a relatively small lead-in time to the double-header it’d be foolish to try and change too much in a short space of time.
“My job is to build on that foundation, and drive what is a very good attacking side to be even better again. We’ve got a very talented group of players, and Danny’s coming in with a strong mindset of making us a well-rounded team. I’ll tweak a couple of things here and put in a few things I feel are important to me, but it’s about making sure the players are comfortable and confident enough to execute it on game day.”
Yet it’s not just the Warriors that drives Bell’s connection to his new home. Indeed, it’s a fondness that is already well-established as he settles into life in the west of Scotland.
“I’ve had a strong affinity with Glasgow for a long time,” smiled Bell.
“My sister went to university in Glasgow, so I’ve spent a lot of time here with friends and family. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Glasgow as a team too, from playing against them to the team they’ve grown into.
“We’re very settled in the city already – it’s very similar to being back home, it’s not that far away in the grand scheme of things! – and we’re very excited about being here.”