Hatfield Queen Elizabeth RFC head coach Gary Phillips said his side’s unbeaten run came from the massive improvements made after their narrow 19-18 opening day success over Tring 3rds.
The Roe Hill club have gone all season unbeaten in the Herts and Middlesex Merit Table 3, a run stretching to 11 league games and counting.
At any level of sport, going unbeaten is incredibly impressive, and the club have turned a massive corner on the pitch since Phillips came in during the summer. After edging to victory over Tring, Phillips went about making his team unbeatable.
He recalled: ‘’Our defensive line was static, we gave Tring so much time. We didn’t pressure them enough, so the first thing we did was work on that. Even if you’re shattered at the end, just two steps forward and it will put the scrums and fly halfs under pressure.
‘When we play Tring away [in the last game of season], I expect us to bloody kill them because we’ve come on leaps and bounds’ – Gary Phillips
‘’Another thing we learned from that game was that we weren’t observing what was going on ahead of us. So as they flooded forward we had nine defenders up against three or four attackers and four of five defenders up against nine or ten attackers, so that was the other major thing we learned.
“We needed to look up and observe what was going on better, and the lads took to that really, really quickly and now our defense is far harder to get past.’’
For 1st XV captain George Stone, now in his third year as skipper at the club, it’s all about what Phillips is doing off the pitch that has improved the side.
‘’I think it’s down to planning, communication and the players that came in. We worked a lot with regards to player retention and getting everyone on board. Everything has just come together at the right time for us.
“Gary is very good. He breaks things down very well and if things are going well he will tell us, but if not, he isn’t afraid to let us know.”
Learning and improving
The club has a fantastic campaign so far and sit top of the table, but Phillips says the team are hard on themselves as they strive to be better. ‘’We are self-critical but you can’t argue with an unbeaten start to the season.
‘’The games against Hendon and Enfield (which they won 12-38 and 47-0 respectively), there’s nothing you can take from them and you don’t really learn too much because the opposition didn’t really give us a game.
‘I think it’s about how you address the players and getting their belief up’ – Hatfield skipper George Stone
“The Tring game, in all fairness, they should have beaten us. Their kicker missed quite a few and we were lucky to scrape by. That was a huge learning curve for me as a coach, to see where we needed to make strides.
“We could see from the off where we needed to get better, but we were fortunate. When we play them away [in the last game of season], I expect us to bloody kill them because we’ve come on leaps and bounds.
“When you’re beating teams 30/40-0 you don’t learn anything. It’s pleasing as a coach to see a few things come off, but you don’t learn much.’’
Skipper Stone says: “I hoped that we would hold our own and give a good account of ourselves. I say to the boys every week, it doesn’t matter who we come up against, as long as we give our best and show what we can do.
“Personally, I haven’t done anything differently. I think it’s about how you address the players and getting their belief up. It doesn’t matter if we make mistakes or we don’t have the best players, it’s about that belief and carrying on.’’
Phillips also runs his own coaching company outside of the club, something that he says is benefiting the team this season.
“I get to work with coaches from New Zealand, Samoa, South Africa, Fiji, Tonga etc. So I get an eclectic approach to the game. I’ve picked up loads from these guys who have coached at international level and as a coach you’re always learning.
‘’On a Saturday I don’t do too much. My job is in training, and when it comes to the matches, it’s down to the boys. In truth, the lads now have a lot of confidence. We played Luton 2nds after Christmas and for the first 40-50 mins we forgot how to play.
“We had a word, calmed down and then when back to what we do best. There was no panicking and there was a steel to the guys. They have huge confidence now.’’
Chairman Toby Garrett brought the head coach in during the summer and said he has brought a great deal of positivity, which is not only reflected on the pitch but during training, too.
‘’I didn’t know I had brought any!” Phillips laughs. “I’m just a very positive person, that’s how I am. When I met Toby and George I said it’s all about enjoyment at this level, so I wanted to make training fun and have a laugh. We’re not going to be world beaters, we know our limitations.
“I tried to bring through a brand of through-the-hands rugby which is a break from the Hatfield tradition. We try to have a giggle at training, have fun and get dirty. We try things and if they don’t work it doesn’t matter. We have fun, which is the main thing.’’
In sport, fitness is key. It means you can last the whole season and not fade, can last longer in matches, and pre-season is a core element that brings success. So for a team at the top of the table how key is it for Hatfield?
‘’Fitness is a major fault at this level. The fitter teams normally do better, but it’s hard,” Phillips said.
‘’A lot of the guys have families and children and the uni lads have a lot of work on, so we can ask them to go and do as much as we like, but we know our restrictions. We’re not out marching every night, it’s what you can do. The social side is doing well rather than running five miles and doing bleep tests.
‘’Mark Crystal is a fantastic club secretary and he puts in a lot of hard work. It’s a fantastic social club and at this level it’s all about having fun. They go down the pub after matches and training and a fair few beers are drunk.
“If fitness isn’t one of our strengths we will find a way around it. I’d love to go out and do a bit more – but it isn’t going to happen!’’
Stone added that it is more about squad unity than fitness and says they just control what they can.
‘’Whatever happens come April happens, we can only control what happens the hour and half on game days, from the moment we meet until the final whistle.’’
Hatfield play Tring in the final match the season, and with the two teams locked in the top two, it could be a winner takes all.
Phillips is confident they can win the league, whilst Stone says, no matter the final outcome, they have achieved this season.
The skipper said: ‘’I think we can win it. With the players we’ve got, the belief, the structure of the club right from the top with the committee to the fans we have the belief and we have a great feel good factor around the club.
“All we can do is keep performing. Win, lose or draw on the last day we’ve achieved and had a great season.’’
Phillips added: ‘’We’re confident we can win all the games. The last game of the season v Tring is a possible winner takes all. I’m trying to get the fellas to understand how to win games and how to exploit the opposition.
“The fitter teams normally do better at this level, but we have some great defenders and attackers. We want to win the league and we are hungry to do so.’’
Hatfield Queen Elizabeth RFC are on Twitter @HatfieldQEII