England’s new attack coach Martin Gleeson believes he can emulate his friend Shaun Edwards and make a significant difference at the highest level of international rugby union over the next two years leading up to the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The former rugby league centre, who represented Great Britain on 20 occasions and won the Super League title twice as a player, had spent just two years in union at Wasps prior to accepting Eddie Jones’s offer to join the national setup but is confident he can help inject some extra zest and accuracy into England’s attacking game.
The Wigan-born Gleeson, 41, used to go around to Edwards’ house to study match tapes and analyse ways of outwitting defences and is now hoping to assist England in their bid to outwit, among others, a French defence now marshalled by the consistently successful Edwards.
“Shaun Edwards was a big influence in me coming to rugby union,” said Gleeson as England concluded a short training camp in Teddington. “When he was the Wales coach I used to go and see him throughout the year and he’d ask me stuff about defences when I was still in league.
“I’d go to his house and we’d have some good conversations. That really started perking my interest in the game. Shaun is obviously someone who played and had success at Wigan, where I’m from. I watched him as a kid growing up. He was a big influence.”
Having observed England’s players at close quarters over the past couple of days, Gleeson’s aim is to help them improve their scoring rate against top opposition following the departure of his predecessor, Simon Amor.
“I like to play in a way where we create opportunities and take most of them,” confirmed Gleeson. “Working in the wider channels, creating opportunities on the edges and finishing them off ... I think that’s where I can really work with the guys in this team, with the quality they’ve got, and give them some different things they might not have seen before. Just execution type of stuff and breaking down defences.
“I’d like England to play with skill, pace and power. England are always good at set pieces and in defence so we want to add to that with our attacking game. We have some quality attacking players so it’s about giving guys the confidence and the know-how to flourish on the big stage. You’ve got to play in a way that suits the players you’ve got. You can’t try and play one way when you’ve got players more suited to other things.”
Gleeson can also offer some useful perspective if and when tough times materialise, having had to build a coaching career in the wake of several off-field issues including a suspension for breaking betting rules in 2004 and a doping ban while he was a Hull FC player in 2011. Gleeson and others tested positive for a banned stimulant in an energy supplement they believed had been checked and approved for use by the club.
A number of Premiership players involved on the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa are poised to return to action this weekend having satisfied the authorities they have had sufficient rest and recuperation. Bristol’s Kyle Sinckler is among those who have requested clearance to resume as soon as possible with the Bears’ director of rugby, Pat Lam, stressing no player would be under pressure to rush back prematurely.
“The one thing I’d never do is force a player to play any rugby he doesn’t want to play because he needs to rest,” said Lam, whose side host Bath at Ashton Gate on Friday night. “It’s up to the individual.”