During a hugely prosperous playing career with Clermont Auvergne in the Top 14 Brock James learnt all there is to know about the intricacies of back play. Known as a master tactician James was the brains behind a decade of success for the French rugby giants. Now he has undertaken the unenviable task of getting the Ospreys back on track but he is relishing the challenge as he tells Steffan Thomas.
Brock James spent a decade pulling the strings at outside-half for Clermont Auvergne and now plans on transferring the knowledge he learned in France to south Wales.
The Australian pivot was always destined for a career in coaching given he dominated Clermont’s back-line and took total control of guiding them around the field. After stints at the back end of his playing days with Bordeaux and La Rochelle, James is now backs coach at Welsh region Ospreys with the new Guinness PRO14 season now on the horizon.
“As a player I always liked to be heavily involved tactically in what we were doing in games. I’ve always had that mindset of understanding what was going on,” he said.
“Sometimes it meant I lost a bit of a feeling with regards to how the game is going and that was something I had to work on, but from a coaching perspective that can only be beneficial. I always enjoyed being part of the strategy and development of game plans and how we wanted to go about winning matches.
“I want to get to the situation where the Ospreys boys can express themselves on the field. I don’t want us to be too rigid and I don’t want us to be too confined to structures.
“We’ve got a lot of talented guys who have different skill sets and I want them to be able to use those. That’s what I want from my back-line. Our goal is to get the Ospreys back to being the top region in Wales.”
James’ first games working with the Ospreys saw them draw with the Dragons after losing Wales wing George North to a red card and then lose to Cardiff Blues. The 2020-21 PRO14 campaign is scheduled to resume on October 3 and for the Ospreys the only way is up after a disastrous last 12 months.
“There is probably not any better place to be for my development as a coach,” James said. “There have been some good additions made in recruitment.
“Rhys Webb and Matty Protheroe have come back into the region. Along with the guys who were here last season it’s an interesting prospect because there is a lot of competition for places.
“Coming from France the work ethic of the Welsh boys has really impressed me. There is not much more you can ask for as a coach.” Ospreys legend Lee Byrne – a former Clermont team-mate of James – has tipped his old friend to finally give the young backs at the Liberty Stadium their wings.
James is excited at the talent he’s got to work with. “There is a lot of potential in the young guys coming through. Owen Watkin has played international rugby and has already stepped up for us,” he added.
“You’ve also got Scott Williams who is a very experienced player. Coming into the set-up you can see the leadership he brings.
“Kieran Williams and Tian Thomas-Wheeler are full of potential as well which opens up a lot of options for us. For me it’s about spending a lot of time with the squad and finding the right combinations for who we’re going to put on the field.
“I’ve got every confidence in the younger players in our squad. Some of the younger guys got a lot of experience last season.
Brock James was an outstanding player. Easily Better than Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley, but dedicated his career to French club rugby and never got a single cap. Would have been an international superstar. https://t.co/3PL3hgUDr3
— Edward Jenkins (@edjenx) April 3, 2020
“That’s put us in a good place because they’ve already gained that experience. Now it’s about making sure we can stamp our style on what we want to do.”
Last season may have been interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the bottom line is the Ospreys only won two games. James and new head coach Toby Booth know there is a lot of work to do, but things can surely not get any worse.
“There is still plenty for me to learn so surrounding myself with so many people who have all this experience is exactly what I wanted to do,” said James.