Former Woodbridge and Bury St Edmunds’ rugby coach developing game in Pakistan
His coaching odyssey has taken him to far flung places such as Florida’s Boca Raton Rugby Club, Nigeria’s capital, Lagos, and the Bahamas.
But instead of taking it easy, veteran former Woodbridge and Bury St Edmunds coach Roger Coombs, is relishing his latest challenge, working in Pakistan.
The Welshman, who worked with Sir Clive Woodward at London Irish and coached current Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea, has been charged with developing all aspects of the game in the South Asian country.
An ex-PE instructor for the Prison Service, Coombs’ teaching experience will be crucial as he looks to introduce the game of rugby to teachers in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, at a very basic level.
“Rugby is very well-organised in Pakistan but it’s also very sparse,” said Woodbridge-based Coombs, who helped current Pakistan captain Arsalan Zahid in his move to Ipswich RFC on a deal until the end of the season.
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“On my return in the new year I will be hosting two-day coaching courses in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi and the aim is to show 20 school teachers in each location how to coach rugby.
“Some of these teachers have never seen a rugby ball or played the game. It’s also important to get the guys who play for the international team involved too.
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“By the time my contract ends in June, whether I remain in Pakistan or not, I want to have got at least three schools and teams in Lahore playing rugby, so they can compete against each other.”
With a population of more than 180 million, Coombs certainly has plenty of scope but explained that getting children into sport is not always easy.
“Education is very big in Pakistan,” added Coombs.
“There is a very good school structure in the country but often the parents do not want their children moving away from their academic studies towards sport, so we have to get their permission.”
He added: “Cricket is a big thing there and where ever you go there are children playing it in the streets.
“But there are also a lot of people that are getting fed-up with cricket and moving into rugby although there has been a bit of an obsession with the Sevens format.”
Coombs’ groundwork will hopefully help produce a conveyor-belt of talent that, in the long-term, will eventually pull on the shirt of the national team – a team he is charged with coaching and moving up the HSBC Asian 5-Nations divisions.
The national team’s success and that of Pakistan’s youth teams will be pivotal, and the under-19s are making a good impression, having recently won the Asian Rugby Championship, defeating India in the final.
“The under-19s was a big thing as India are very good at rugby and have a structured under-19s league,” explained Coombs, who also hopes to experience more success before his current deal ends.
“I want to win the next minor Sevens tournament, hosted in Pakistan, and would to get the senior side promoted from Division Four. We also need to get more of our international players playing regular rugby, like Arsalan Zahid.”
Having international players based abroad in more prominent rugby-playing countries helps, according to Coombs.
“A couple are based in the north of England, while we also have one in Scotland and one in Australia and it does make a difference as they know what they’re doing,” he said.
“The guys in Pakistan love their rugby but it’s all about getting more tournaments arranged and putting pressure on them.
“It’s very laid back in Pakistan and it can be frustrating. I recently dropped three players from the under-19s because they turned up 45 minutes late for training and they couldn’t understand what they had done wrong.”