Recently, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Wellington’s new coach, Bruce Edgar at the Wellington Firebirds’ training set-up at Westpac Stadium. Most of what we discussed will be coming shortly, in a feature piece discussing his career – from his playing days as a stoic opening bat, to coaching, being New Zealand selector, and back to his role now with Wellington.
But 24 hours out from the first day of Wellington’s Plunket Shield campaign, here are Edgar’s thoughts on the season ahead. He follows a turbulent stint as coach by Jamie Siddons, and big things are hoped for Edgar’s tenure.
I suppose, first of all, we’re here in Wellington, so what are your aims for the season as coach?
BE: “Aims. That’s a good question. For me, there’s been previous coaches, previous regimes, all that sort of thing. But you could say, what’s success? And for me, it is actually assisting the guys to get better as players. So putting a structure in place where the guys can get better, they can improve. Things like what we’re doing at the moment, which is their own individual performance plans. So these are their ways, their thinking, on how they can get better. And so we want to actually have guys, when they turn up to training, know what they’re working on straight away, so they’re not going ‘what am I doing today?’
“They turn up here in the stadium, they wander in there and go ‘oh, I must just have a few hits’. What’s the point in having a few hits when there’s no purpose about it? So it’s to encourage the guys to be more self-sufficient about how they go about their training, what they’re working on, create scenarios, raise the bar in terms of intensity, so there’s always a purpose do what they’re doing. Then, culturally, working on that. Developing character, leadership and development, just helping them with that. And as they get better as players, and as individuals, hopefully success pops out the top.”
There’s always that balance between, on the one hand you want team success, then on the other hand your job as an association is to provide players for the Blackcaps, so where do you see your balance in that regard?
BE: “It is a conundrum actually, it’s a good question. Because you could be more successful by not having any Blackcaps, because you get the Blackcaps on duty – like Northern Districts, they’ve got five, maybe six guys playing for the Blackcaps. But it creates depth in there, it gives other guys an opportunity to play. But yeah, I think a measure of success is probably what the local environment is creating, and providing people with playing experiences, getting better as players, and then getting recognised and getting up and becoming Blackcaps. It’s saying, well, the area’s doing something right.”
You’ve obviously made quite a few changes this season – you’ve got Michael Papps as your captain, you’ve brought in Craig Cachopa as your overseas player, which means James Franklin won’t be playing for Wellington this season. So with those changes – Mark Gillespie’s obviously been cut from the contracts list – was that something that you really saw as important when you came in, making sure there was an overhaul, and making things a bit more fresh?
BE: “Yeah, you view it as you see it at the time, if you like. And there was probably a need for some change. James Franklin not being around meant that we had the opportunity for a new captain, Mark Gillespie’s a little bit different in terms of, he’s missed the cut, but he still has an opportunity to be available. But just the way we assessed things, unfortunately for him missed out. But we’ve put structures in place for a couple of the guys who have missed contracts this year, so they can be part of a wider training squad if they want to be part of that. Matthew Bell is actually going to lead that, so we’ve got 15 contracted players, and another 15 in our wider squad with Matthew Bell and a few other coaches as well.”
One of the things that was notable under your predecessor, Jamie Siddons, was that it was a very ageing squad. At the top of the order you had Michael Papps, Grant Elliott, James Franklin, Luke Woodcock, Luke Ronchi, then Jeetan Patel, Andy McKay, Mark Gillespie, Brent Arnel. Youngsters were even leaving – Scott Kuggeleijn left back to ND, Harry Boam gave up the game entirely. Do you see bringing those youngsters through as something that’s really important over the next couple of seasons?
BE: “Another good question and very valid. Even if you look at the current side that we’ve got, our average age is probably 29, but you take the median it’s probably around 26, 27. So half the group is above that age, and half the group is below it. And you can say, out of that lot we have some very experienced players – the BA’s [Brent Arnel], the names you’ve mentioned, some very experienced players – then underneath that you have younger guys, that are just really feeling their way. Like Tom Blundell and Michael Pollard, both just made the New Zealand A side, but they’re both relatively inexperienced players. So if you take those as the more experienced players in our younger group, the others are really inexperienced. The challenge is to bring them on, and to give them some good playing experiences and see them develop. And hopefully bridge that gap between the experienced and the inexperienced guys.”