Sean Hedger, the former Melbourne Rebels Assistant Coach and Melbourne Rising Head Coach, took up a 3-year contract as the Head Coach at Bond University Rugby Club on the Gold Coast last November. He had led the Melbourne Rising to an unbeaten round-robin season in the inaugural National Rugby Championship (NRC) until they were unfortunately beaten in the semi-final. I chatted to him about his coaching career.
What prompted the change from being an assistant coach at a Super Rugby franchise and an NRC head coach to take up a post at a university?
From a personal point of view, the attraction of the Bond University position is being in charge again of a rugby program. But the plans that the university has for the rugby club all made it an exciting opportunity. It isn’t a case of going somewhere which is already a success and maintaining it, it’s actually going to a place which has a lot of potential, where a large rugby playing population hasn’t been harnessed as well as it could have been. Also, it wasn’t a case of me being pushed out of the Rebels or my path being blocked by anyone there.
After your 3-year stint at Bond is over, is the Waratahs’ job on your radar? And what are your aspirations in terms of the Wallaby position one day?
Getting back into Super Rugby is something I’d definitely consider. I’m still young in terms of coaching – in my early 40s – so I do have aspirations to getting back to that level, but not until I achieve what I want to achieve with my current project at Bond.
What did you do before getting into coaching back in 2003?
I’ve actually been around coaching for a lot longer than that as my first full-time job out of university was as a junior rugby Development Officer, which provided a really good grounding and a pathway for all levels of coaching. I did a Bachelor of Human Movement Science at Southern Cross University in Lismore, so I always had ambitions of getting employed in the sporting industry.
You had a coaching stint in Japan a few years ago, and also at the same club Nathan Grey was at. How did that opportunity come about?
The current Australian U20 coach, Adrian Thompson, was the head coach of Kyuden at the time, and he appointed me there, which coincided with Nathan’s first year in coaching after playing for a few years at the club, so we were both assistants under Adrian. Nathan then got the assistant’s role at the Melbourne Rebels in their first year (2011) so left before the end of the season.
Culturally, what was it like coaching in Japan?
The best thing about coaching in Japan is that you only have to worry about what happens between the white lines. You don’t get tied up in off-field politics, so it’s a really good opportunity to think about the team’s training and playing performance on the field. Culturally, they are very different; they are averse to decision-making, but on the flip side, they are also very obedient and tend to buy into things pretty quickly. A lot of the foreigners who don’t survive there say that the Japanese do things wrong, whereas I thought it was more about them doing things differently. So one just has to be very adaptable.
How did the Melbourne Rising approach the new NRC?
The Rising were quite lucky as we were different to the other teams, who were conglomerates of different clubs and ideas. We approached it as an opportunity for players who didn’t get much game time for the Rebels or were injured in the Super Rugby season. The final make-up of the squad was about 50% Rebels and 50% local players, and we got one of the local coaches into the setup too. The upshot was that one guy has been offered a full-time Rebels’ contract, while another eight are part of the wider training group. We also saw it as a great opportunity to get a good connection with the Melbourne rugby community. The Rebels had done very well at establishing a brand within the Melbourne sporting landscape, and had made good corporate relationships, but the relationship between the Rebels and the local rugby community wasn’t that strong, mainly due to the scheduling of games on a Friday night.
What’s the best advice in coaching you’ve received and from whom?
Probably Adrian Thompson. The biggest thing I learnt from him was planning. As long as you’ve planned for best- and worst-case scenarios, then nothing should surprise you. His level of planning was something I’d never seen before and I strived to do the same.
Where could someone who was interested in coaching start?
The best place to start is at the local clubs, in community rugby. Whether you start coaching the reserve grade or the C grade team, there are plenty of opportunities to start coaching and to educate yourself. The ARU has also got very good level 1 and 2 courses. So it’s all about just diving in as there are always clubs that are crying out for coaches.
This article originally appeared on the Australian Rugby Business Network website in 2015.