By Steffan Thomas
Nigel Ashley-Jones has worked with some of the best coaches in world rugby from Eddie Jones to Steve Diamond, but he believes Scarlets boss Dwayne Peel could be just as good.
Ashley-Jones’ appointment as the Scarlets’ head of physical performance went under the radar somewhat when it was announced last summer. But in luring the straight-talking Australian to Llanelli, Peel had succeeded in securing the signature of one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the world.
The Australian has a vast array of experience having in worked in three different sports with the Canberra Raiders, Warrington Wolves, St Helens, Wigan Warriors, Saracens, Sale Sharks, Wigan Athletic, and Derby County, among others.
✍️ NEWS | Scarlets are delighted to announce the appointment of Nigel Ashley-Jones as our Head of Physical Performance. Welcome to the Scarlets family!
Croeso mawr i deulu’r Scarlets Nigel 👊
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) July 14, 2021
And Ashley-Jones, who is a friend of England coach Jones, insists he chose to join the Scarlets because of Peel’s potential as head coach.
“I’ve known Dwayne for a long time, and I had the pleasure and the honour of working with him when he was a player at Sale,” he said.
“I was close to Andy Farrell. He’s one of the best leaders I’ve worked with. He had an aura. He’s one of the fittest blokes I’ve worked with, and Dwayne Peel was similar.
“Eddie Jones has been a massive influence on my career. He cops a hard time Eddie, but he’s one of the all-time superstar coaches. Dwayne is a new head coach, but he’s already got that same attitude.
“There’s no stone unturned with Dwayne. He’s got an edge which reminds me of Eddie, and Steve Diamond.
“If your head coach isn’t tough your performance staff are always under the pump. You are telling a player he needs to be leaner, and you are telling a player he needs to be fitter.
“If your head coach is on the fence and has a soft edge then the performance department is going to get smashed up. Then you are going to get the blame and it’ll be a nightmare.
“If you go into a regime like you’d get with Steve Diamond or Eddie Jones the players know where they stand.
“Dwayne is great at setting standards. You either rise up to those standards or go and speak to your agent and sign for another club.”
Despite having experienced many different cultures in his career, rugby league is embedded in the 49-year-olds DNA and is the sport which shaped his outlook on the game. Ashley-Jones is a tough character who believes in a hard-nosed, no-nonsense culture, and he would like the Scarlets to take inspiration from the work ethic of Australian NRL sides.
He’s coached in the English Premier League, English Super League and even rugby union in Russia!
Get to know our Head of Physical Performance, Nigel Ashley-Jones.
— Canberra Raiders (@RaidersCanberra) December 9, 2017
“Dwayne Peel wants to create an NRL toughness at the Scarlets,” said Ashley-Jones.
“Dwayne loves the NRL and always has. He wants that ruthless mentality of just go, and you bash each other, and you bash each other again.
“Dwayne has that as do I. It’s just that relentless mindset of hard work.
“I do set them tough standards but it’s because I come from the NRL which is ridiculously ruthless. Both games, the NRL and rugby union, are tough in different ways. Rugby league is like a grind.
“The ball is in play for 60 minutes it is ridiculous. These guys need to have robustness. They need to be able to survive intense pressure.
“But another thing that persuaded me to join the Scarlets is how they look after their players. They’ve had a lot of players who have suffered long term injuries like James Davies, Aaron Shingler, and Rhys Patchell.
“These guys have had a really tough time, and the club has been excellent with them. Yes, we want to create a no excuses environment, but we want the players to enjoy coming into work in the morning.
“It’s about striking the right balance.”
💻 Dwayne spoke to the media today ahead of our Champions Cup clash in Bordeaux
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) January 12, 2022
There is no doubt Ashley-Jones holds one of the most important roles at the Scarlets especially with the squad only having played one game of rugby since October.
After the upsurge of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 the squad were forced to isolate in South Africa, and for 10 days in Belfast, while both their European games against Bristol, and Bordeaux, along with their Boxing Day derby against Cardiff were called off.
And the west Walians will be relying on the expertise and experience of Ashley-Jones to ensure they are in peak condition for the resumption of rugby.
“We are living in very difficult and unprecedented times with covid,” said Ashley-Jones.
“If you can chop and change your sports it will make you so much better in terms of seeing similar problems with better eyes. Every sport I’ve been in has had similar problems.
“It’s about making the players perform at their optimum. It’s about dealing with injuries, putting systems, procedures, and training programmes in place which reduce the risk of injury.
“It’s about ticking all your boxes to make sure the players are well prepared. It’s about dealing with the anxiety of performance; it’s about developing a competitive environment, so everyone is trying to get picked.
“All those sports have that. The practitioner I am now is down to the experiences I’ve had.”