Earlier this month fans from Yorkshire Carnegie gathered for a Fans Forum meeting held at Headingley Carnegie Stadium and were joined by special guest, Academy Director, Andy Rock.

Fans Forum Meeting Wednesday 22nd July
Fans Forum Members:
Attendees: Ian Waterhouse, Malcolm Robinson, Susie Woffinden, Andrea Green
Apologies: Gary Marks
Leeds Rugby Attendees:-
Sian Jones (Head of Customer Experience & Meeting Chair), Jessica Ives (Customer Experience Telesales /Minute Taker)
Guests for the Evening:-
Yorkshire Carnegie Academy Director – Andy Rock

Next meeting dates
Wednesday 19th August         RHINOS
Wednesday 23rd September   GROUP
Wednesday 28th October       CARNEGIE
Wednesday 18th November    RHINOS
Wednesday 16th December    GROUP

Sian: Welcome everyone to the forum.  As you can see we have our guest speaker this evening who is Andy Rock, Yorkshire Carnegie Academy Director.  You have all prepared questions for him prior to this evening but I would just like to start by welcoming Andy and letting him give you a bit of insight  into his background and job role here at Yorkshire Carnegie.

Andy: Firstly, thank you for having me.  It is really good to have a group of people who create a forum to discuss the club and our plans with.

It is an interesting time at the club at the moment which I know you will ask questions about tonight.  The academy has had an interesting twelve months that you all be aware of.

In terms of my background I came from Keighley where I had been based for 16 years and I came across when it was Leeds Tykes to the Academy and we had our training on Tuesday and Thursday night’s training sessions at Chandos Park.  I have since been here for 14 years starting in the academy and I have had about 9 months away but apart from that I have been across the whole outfit.  I came in full time as Academy
Director last September.  I have coached with other clubs after I finished playing but ultimately my role now shows my passion for player development especially with my history in the academy.  There has been a strength in the academy over the last few years and my job is to build on that.  We are in a great position now within he club that we can only build on and make better. With all the changes that have been made within the club etc.

Sian: What better way to have an Academy Director that has been through the ranks and grown from the sport.

Questions for Andy Rock from Susie Woffinden (Fans Forum Member)
How do the numbers of people in the academy now compare to 2 years ago and 5 years ago?Andy: When we started the Satellite programme (ERDPP) a couple of season ago the numbers swelled massively.  We had prior to that had groups of players Under 13s to Under 1’s that had around 25-30 players in total from the previous School of Rugby system, which ultimately recognised the talent early and they were put on the pathway, with a high number of players in Yorkshire being left without a professionally run development programme to access.  Based on pure numbers the ERDPP programme improved that straight away, but it wasn’t functioning well enough in terms of the product on the ground, because of the speed at which it grew. This season, the numbers will be high but our commitment to resource this and the plans we have in place to service it more professionally are now there.

Next season for example in the Under 14s to Under 16s there will be around 125 to 140 players per age group spread across the six satellite areas.  They are the numbers we will work with initially. After Christmas there will be an access point for U13s, with again, something around 125 places available.  In 2017 we will have a spread up to Under 17s.  I think at the age of 16 the numbers will drop with the divergence of the elite pathway at that age group, but it will mean we will be delivering monthly contact across the season in each of the six satellites we have.  We will have 12 evening deliveries to make sure the rugby can be structured which in turn allows the clubs and schools to plan, and just gives us one very busy week each month to get out there and deliver a product that we can be proud of.  Core academy activity starts at Under 15s from which we will identify some from the satellite programmes.  The numbers for Under 15s and U16s increased dramatically last season, but we did not have a satellite programme sitting behind it that allowed us to work with a smaller group, so that may change slightly in the coming year.

At the club we want between 15-20 per age group to work with from U15 to U18.  That’s the way the funnel generally narrows from that wider pack of players we have out in the county. There will be a group at the top that will need more input but it will narrow from the satellite programme drastically.  Some may not come through into the senior team but on the flip side some will develop towards their own potential, with better support and that will add value to the way we are situated in the county and viewed as a professional club who are adding real value to the player pool in the county, who go back out and support the game.

So, 15-20 of the players will get weekly contact and support from us up until Under 18’s.  The 15-20 players in each age group will form an elite player development group.  The tier above this are called England Academy Players.  When a player is recognised at this level, they are registered with the RFU, and then we as a club are accountable for committing more resource to those players and their journey through the ranks, due to their identification almost as, potentially, the best of the best which we have.
In our Senior Academy of Under 19s through to around Under 22s we have around 15 players registered as England Academy players.

What do you see as the biggest challenges the academy is facing?Andy: The biggest challenges I believe we have are, well one is really simple, as a regional academy there is a great deal of external reporting and compliance.  The admin, somewhat due the way the systems have been driven because of the central funding is a huge area of work.  The admin time takes your time out of coaching time with players, and this is something we constantly have to review. All centrally funded RFU academies have an academy review and audit every year.  It is a balance to achieve when trying to spend time effectively with players, but also making sure that the necessary paper-trail is in place to satisfy external report in needs. It’s not a poor process, and is no different to any other sports who have NGB involved academies, so being efficient with time, and well organised is just a big part of the job.

Another area is resource. We face the challenge of getting enough coaching staff etc. to make sure we can cover our ever widening remit as a regional academy. We did however address that and we brought in a new member of staff in Ben Lazenby, who will drive the satellite programme forwards. We are now at a minimum of where we need to be with three full time coaching/management staff. Because we have now got more staff we can narrow down the remits of individuals and make sure that they can plan and have autonomy in where they are going.

Another challenge is retaining players. As you see with the likes of Paul Hill for example, we have a great talent pool but it is trying to keep them within our programme. There are many factors at play in situations like this, and getting promoted may seem like the quick fix. It would help hugely, but we have to continue creating an environment within the academy that players grow up in, that drives them to stay as long as humanly possible, and to help us when they move to the first team to achieve the clubs objectives of premiership rugby. Ultimately through, we need to provide a visible and accessible pathway to those at the start of their careers towards their goals of premiership rugby.

Andrea: I guess some of the players want to progress and play for England and in the Premiership?

Susie: It is disappointing that we are losing players to better clubs, but we would be in a worse position if we weren’t developing good players in the first place.

Andrea: Does the retention of players like Jonah, and signing of Kevin Sinfield improve the chances of young players committing longer term?

Andy: I think for us a great move is signing Kevin Sinfield. I think a lot of the younger boys will have looked up to him for some years and I think it will help us massively having someone like Kevin in the squad. Although in a different squad, his presence in the building at Kirkstall has always crossed over to both codes, and I’m sure it will make some difference.

Sian: I think there is a great deal of intrigue surrounding Kevin playing for Yorkshire Carnegie.

Susie: And a lot of excitement too!

What are the best and worst parts about your job?
Andy: I will be honest the most difficult bit so far has been the highly changeable environment we’ve been working in through last year, but we’ve come out of the other side in a strong position.  I am probably becoming a lot better at looking more at what can be controlled, and focussing energy on that.  The best bit is everything else.  I really am very lucky to have the job that I have got.  The interaction with the players is always a high point.  It gives you high in terms of their achievements and feeling you have played a part in their development and future career. We are lucky because we spend a lot of time with a lot of players and you develop strong relationships because of that. Having staff and players as a part of the fabric and the furniture of the club, you get to know people very well, and I believe that it is a huge part of effective coaching. Being able to work with the person rather than just the player.

Questions for Andy Rock from Malcolm Robinson (Fans Forum Member)
There are a great number of Rugby Union clubs in Yorkshire. How do you become ‘allied ‘ to a particular club? I will refer this question to the B&I venue used clubs for instance York, Scarboro’ Huddersfield.etcAndy: In terms of the B&I Cup venues it is done through a tendering process that a lot of clubs are invited to participate in. There is a certain criteria that each club needs to be able to meet in order to host the fixture.  It then gets narrowed down to where you are left with a small number of clubs and it is chosen from that.

In terms of development, we work a lot in the community with our Satellite Clubs (also known as ERDPP). This programme is an initiative which aims to identify and support the most talented players aged 15-18 in each county to help establish a development pathway for England Rugby.  These players get training from us and have a lot of contact with the academy.

Part of our community strategy this year is to improve the quality of work we do, with a manageable amount of community clubs. We have struggled in the past as we have had skeleton staff so we haven’t had the resource to deliver the programmes.  Now we have a targeted approach that we would like to take out to clubs and make sure we are getting the clubs we hope to work with engaged.  This is where we will look at different avenues to build on the community department of the academy.

Ian: So this means everyone is involved and the county then knows what the system is to work with?

Andy: Yes, that is part of the problem, when you don’t have one system that covers everything. Part of the weakness is as soon as you get multiple entry points you lack consistency and get people thinking that players or clubs are being favoured.  If we do have a model that incorporates everything we can set out a standardised approach to do everything that’s needed for it too work well and eliminates the lack of clarity  We are starting to gather the right way via a website that encompasses all the information in terms of players in the academy. The website we are in the process with moving forward with will under pin the new system we are putting in place. This can then be a system that is used across the county with one mechanism available
to communicate to all the various stakeholders.

Are you constantly contacting other Yorkshire clubs with junior sections to help develop their junior sections?
Andy: This crosses over from Talent Identification.  Our challenge is to align the pathways and have a mechanism that allows players to be recognised within the community game and nominated to us.  By January 2015 we got an agreement that we would align the player activity and not have lots of different pockets of activity across the county.  We wanted to make sure there was one clear pathway for all clubs and not lots of different avenues that could lead to thesame outcomes.  By doing this it makes selection easier in terms of looking at the broader talent pool.  This is the right model for a Yorkshire club with a Yorkshire brand, but also purely to help provide the right model for the county and its rugby playing community.  We are lucky that we can use a model like that as we have a relationship with the county that other professional clubs don’t have.
In terms of identification of talent, I don’t disagree it shouldn’t be just out in the clubs but it is a huge amount of resource and time that we would have to find from somewhere to put feet on the ground.  We are not going huge down the scouting route to watch loads of community rugby, as the remit we have without that added time is just huge and staff couldn’t do it. We are investing heavily in the Satellite (ERDPP) programme in September so that we are adding real value to developing players, and with that, I hope that the buy in from schools and clubs comes through, and they have a desire to work with us to identify the players who should be given opportunities.

How do you pick a certain club for rugby development?
With the great number of Yorkshire clubs this must be very difficult to get round the county. Which clubs will you look at to help develop players?

Andy: Wharfedale will have some players on Dual Registration and so will Otley.  The preference in terms of terms of the club isn’t always based on the club but on the player’s needs. When you send a player out to a club that can guarantee playing time that is one factor, but there are many other factors to look at other than that.  Wharfedale and Otley both offer what we need for developing the specific players that need to go out on loan this season, and it’s great to be able to supper those clubs.  We have constant dialogue with the other clubs and we will support them as best we can. Leeds Beckett has a brilliant platform to develop players.  We have a couple of second rows there at the moment.  It offers them 15-16 games a year and gives them a big enough period within the season where we can look after their ongoing physical development also. The most important thing is they play early season.  We may need to rest some first team players across periods of a long season, so we need to have those players to come in with ambition and drive, after having got some game time under their belts.

Asda have just given Yorkshire Carnegie a six figure sum for development of grass roots rugby. How do you intend to use this money?Andy: It will be used across a number of things.  The way we want to work as a club, trying to link the community clubs and the talent pathway, is an area this will be useful in.  The money will go into our Community Department so we can get additional members of staff in order to get them out and working within the community and schools.  It’s an exciting initiative for us, and we hope to release information on the programme soon.

Sian: For Andy as the Academy Director, there are two directions one being the Satellite Programmes (ERDPP) and then there is how we engage with the community and how we develop to get children more engaged in the game, it’s mapping those routes.  The money from Asda will go into those areas where our satellites are and equally we will operate our promotions within the club under the Asda umbrella.  We have started working together a lot more in terms of the club and academy staff.  This is the best point that we have veer been at for the club with everyone working together.  There is now a complete community strategy which we all know has one path with branches coming off. But even with branches coming off, we still fully see where that journey is going.  For the club and for the county is what we want to be!  There is a clear vision and understanding where we can all work as a team.

I have a good customer who has a lot to do with Halifax RUFC (once on the national circuit but got into financial difficulties with paying players etc). They are now in the Yorkshire divisions, promoted last season and are developing the club again. They don’t really have a junior section any more, would you be interested in looking at their set up etc?
Andy: Ben Lazenby has actually been liaising with the coaching staff over at Halifax. We would love to help all clubs, but at the end of the day we need a return on our investments with the clubs.  There are 26 RFU staff in the county who have the job of working with the clubs and developing participation.  We maybe need to join forces better than before in order to help these clubs, but from a business perspective if we only get caught up in the clubs that are struggling we won’t get a return for the time we put in. In terms of the management structure in the club, it’s my decision on where we have to pull back on areas like this otherwise we won’t have the time and resource to be able to deliver everything else into some other clubs, who are better positioned right now to support us in our journey, and hopefully clubs like Halifax can get necessary support from those parts of the game who possess that remit for growth and development of the community game.

Sian: I think it is quite clear that we have watched several hundreds of schemes going on through the club and sometimes you are throwing something at a wall to see if it sticks.  What we are doing now is putting people in positions like Andy Rock and people are gelling together and there is a real focus.  We went out last year with Adam Blades to get the club affiliation scheme going, we were signing clubs up to the schemes but in return we expect some other commitment from the clubs we work with to give us a return.

Questions for Andy Rock from Ian Waterhouse (Fans Forum Member)
You have given us a lot of information on the structure etc. and you said you have a background in coaching. You must’ve lost the hands on that side now. How does that feel? 

Andy: This pre-season has been good because it has provided a platform to get on the pitch again and coach.  That is the place where it simulates everything else. It’s linking everything when you get on the pitch so adds more value to the conversation with developing players that you need to have as a coach.  I am aware of the reality of what I am doing right now, and the job than needs to be done to play my part in driving the club forwards. I do want to coach in the future but there is a major importance in the other things I am doing and I am happy that I just need to manage that effectively.  We are in a much better place than where we were ten months ago because a lot of the admin is done, within the framework, so the balance will be better to achieve. I would love to coach more but I will always feel like that.

There is a suggestion now that rugby has reached its peak in terms of size of players because of the situation with injuries etc.  What are your thoughts on that?  Also Sir Ian McGeechan has talked about Leeds Rhinos and Yorkshire Carnegie working together on player development and have a player for both? The thought is that they get to 19 and have to decide if they are Union or League players. 

Andy: I agree to a point.  Being able to play both codes has its advantages for certain players, positional factors, size factors and physical development needs all come into the mix here.  I work closely with the Rhinos staff in the academy and we work well in terms of recruiting young players who are already good players.  Simon Bell, Head of Youth Development at Leeds Rhinos last year recruited one of the best players I have seen for a long time who is an outside back who could do either code until he was 19.  He can transfer to us, but at the moment the majority of the time he is with the Leeds Rhinos and he is developing well.   When we have players like this we advise them together as Simon and I have their best interests at heart.  Take Josh Walters as an example. He was a fantastic player that came from Prince Henry’s and was a very  good 12, he has a skill set that lends itself to playing back row in rugby league. He has come out with a good result for himself and playing in the Leeds Rhinos first team.

In terms of players being too big there has been a trend and to look at the data we have available there has been a decline in size over the last three seasons around 2012-2013.  Gym culture did push size increases forwards. We have taken steps as a club to try and understand the journey by researching development of adolescent rugby union players.  The difficulty within your question is the generations are getting bigger.  I don’t think we can say we have reached a peak but as a club we are investigating how they get there.  You look at different countries and different genetics you will never quite know, from an academy setting and the way we approach it is for us to help develop robust and athletic rugby players, rather than just big people.

You talked about potential for picking up players who missed the academy position, we lost someone about three years ago to premiership. What are your thoughts on the process of picking players up?
Andy: I think many things there are factors, the biggest way in which we can help is to manage the transition points more carefully and with more forethought. We may see that player re-emerge that we have released, the predictive value of suggesting someone can make it is often fairly low, and you cannot retain all young players just in case.

Has union as a sport got a better way of getting them in the system and keeping them in the system like football? 

Andy: The numbers they work with at Football clubs are colossal and they are not always bothered about the fall out or what happens with them afterwards.   I think rugby has a very good system and it is helped by the smaller numbers we manage.  We will always have players leave the system within the academy whether that is early in the pathway, or during the transition to adult rugby, but I think it is really key that we support them to the next step and then through the next step.

Feedback from Susie Woffinden (Fans Forum Member)
In general
Great to get the forum minutes out so early- but they didn’t go out on social media

Response from Leanne Flynn – Communications Manager
‘Sorry this did not publish through to the social media sites.  The relevant boxes were ticked when the story was created for it to go onto social media so this is something we will have to look into with our web providers to see why this did not happen.’

What are your thoughts on how we can raise the profile of the forum after last month’s meeting?Sian: We have been sent a few ideas on how we can raise the profile of the forum. Here are some of the ones we have had in and we can potentially look at going forward:

Newsletters – we can look at getting a small space in the Carnegie Times that will advertise the forum and have a focus around the group on a match day.

Radio promotion – this is something we can discuss with Gareth Jones at BBC Radio Leeds to see if he can assist.

Information on Big Screen – we can look to put the forum member pictures on the screen on a game day along with a bit of feedback

What have the forum done this month? – This will form a ‘You say, we did’ type format with the fans that give you feedback and we can show what we did on the back of it. This could go into Carnegie Times, onto big screen on match day, web stories, twitter and facebook.

Forum members to be available to meet supporters in the Carnegie Café Bar on match day.

What are the plans to publicise the Webb Ellis Cup tour?
Is this going to go out on social media?Sian: On the website we the banners already promote the Trophy coming to Headingley.  The cup will be here between 9-11am.  There will be a corporate network breakfast first. We have invited people to come from 10am to have a picture taken with it based on a first come first served basis.  We have four junior teams attending also: Roundhegians, Wetherby, Ripon and Cleckheaton. Then there will a 1st Team Training session on the pitch from 11am there followed by photo and autograph opportunity with the players. We are doing child friendly activities with face painting and Terry the Terrier being in attendance.  There will be as much as we can throw at it to make it a great day.

Andrea: Will there be any ex world cup players coming to Headingley?

Sian: Unfortunately not as this will be a Yorkshire Carnegie Open Day and we don’t want to take the focus away from that.

Response from Leanne Flynn – Communications Manager
‘The Webb Ellis tour is advertised on social media on both the Yorkshire Carnegie Twitter and Facebook headers.  Details have also been included in various stories on the site and there will also be more stories going on as we approach the date and details of the open day once everything has been confirmed’

Feedback via Ian Waterhouse (Fans Forum Member)

From Message Boarder ‘Almostatyke’
“Just read the latest Fans Forum meeting minutes. Looks to have been a really good meeting. A few things caught my eye:
1) the minutes have come out quite speedily
2) the forum isn’t just for “moans”
3) it looks like we are promised a pre-season meet the Brush evening!

With reference to the second point, I would like to thank the FF members and the club for moving this initiative along in a positive way. Obviously Sir Kev can’t be the guest at every meeting, which clearly helped make this particular meeting unique, but I previously thought the FF was a bit stagnant. Clearly not the case.”

How will the World Cup Fan Zone takeover look for Carnegie? Is it something the fans forum can get involved with?
Sian: In terms of forum involvement it will be very limited. You are more than welcome to come to the fanzone and see all the activity happening but this would be difficult for us to have involvement with the scale of the activity.

When will the pre-season fixtures be released?
Sian: The Romania game fixture is out at the moment, 14th August. But if you keep an eye on social media and the website then you will see the dates as they come out.

When will the new shirt be available?
Sian: The new training range is available in store and online as of now.  The new shirt launch will be on Thursday 6th August!

Feedback from John Richardson via email (Yorkshire Carnegie Season Member)
‘Has any consideration been given to providing transport between Headingley and Elland Road (Either or both ways) on the Saturday of the Italy v Canada WRC round and the Yorkshire Carnegie v London Scottish match?
I would suggest that dedicated coaches for these journeys for a small fee would be very well supported.’

Response from Yorkshire Carnegie Finance Manager – Mike Bidgood
‘The concept of a bus to bring fans from Elland Road to Carnegie was discussed a while back but my view, amongst others, was that this would be difficult to organise down at Elland Road.  For it to be successful people would need to pre-book so we would have an idea of numbers.’