London Irish Academy coaches James Lightfoot Brown and Jonathan Fisher recently travelled to South Africa as part of the England U18 coaching staff.

The duo returned to Hazelwood this week, enthused to take their experience from the international stage into their work with the club’s Academy.

“It was an eye-opening experience for me. I had to build relationships with the players quickly. It was important for us to have the players involved in the preparation for how we wanted to play.” explained Lightfoot Brown. 

“I feel that I developed a lot over the course of the tour, and it is something that I can bring into my work with the London Irish Academy moving forward.”

Lightfoot Brown and Fisher joined Jim Mallinder and Mark Luffman to form the coaching team, a relationship that they both relished.

“For me personally, in terms of learning from the tour, I’ve had a good opportunity to work alongside Jim Mallinder for the last year. It’s been great to coach underneath someone that has as much experience as he does. It has been fantastic to see how he operates, how he leads his coaching group and how he empowers his coaching group. It’s certainly been a privilege to have been involved with” explained Fisher.

“Mark Luffman, who focuses on the scrum and front row, has been involved in that group for a long time now. He’s been involved in academies for nearly 20 years and has a lot more experience than I do! He was a bit of a mentor for me and someone that I could bounce ideas off. He was a great sounding board.”

Lightfoot Brown added: “working with Jim and Mark was brilliant for both of us as we got to see how those guys go about their business. Something I took from them is how to develop individual players in matches, as opposed to on the training pitch.

“Because of the lack of contact time with the group and the quick turnarounds between games, we had to adapt quickly. It was a great challenge for us and the players.”

London Irish Academy’s Will Joseph, Alex Harmes, Tarek Haffar, Joe Keohane and Michael Dykes represented the club on the field, and the coaches were happy with the five boys’ performances, and the improvements to take away from the trip.

“I think it was a valuable experience for the London Irish Academy boys that travelled with us” explained Fisher.

“Being exposed to the other players that are considered the best in the country, was a good way for them to see how players from other academies operate and apply themselves. It was definitely a good, steep learning curve for our lads.”

With a limited amount of time for the team to prepare, Lightfoot Brown was particularly impressed with the squad’s ability to adapt to the different challenges.

“Against Argentina and South Africa, our lads were nine months younger, so there was a physical challenge to overcome. I think the guys faced this head on and our defence against South Africa in particular, was superb. The squad adapted well to something that they probably haven’t come across before.” 

Fisher added: “adapting was crucial. For these lads, they were a bit younger and physically a bit smaller, so it forced them to be tactically astute and adapt in-game. They developed a tactical understanding on how they could win matches in a different manner. That’s great for English rugby and the development pathway because you want to develop the players ability to adapt and overcome new situations. 

“Throughout the tour, the squad gained in confidence in their ability to do this. In our final fixture against South Africa, we attacked in the areas that we learnt they were not as strong, which was great to see them discover for themselves. Each game came with a new strategy, which was great for the development of the players.”


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