World Cup winner Greenwood on the changing culture and mentality at Maidenhead RFC

It was Will Greenwood’s father who inadvertently first convinced his son to find a route back into coaching and ultimately brought the former Rugby World Cup winner to Maidenhead Rugby Club.

Greenwood, who lifted the World Cup with England in 2003, had been retired from the game for a number of years and was feeling the need to scratch an itch, to experience the game in a visceral sense once more.

It was this desire which first brought him to Braywick Park, and, despite jokingly referring to himself as the club’s water-boy on match-days, Greenwood’s involvement has been a crucial component in their recent success.

“It was my old man,” said Greenwood. “He’s nearly 79. He was an England coach and he was still training five years ago in North Wales. It was December and it was miserable out, and I just thought, Jesus Christ, my dad’s 75 and he’s still coaching. What am I doing not staying involved because I absolutely love the game of rugby.

“So basically I remembered that when I was with the England Saxons we played a game at Maidenhead Rugby Club, so I knew there was a club just down the road. So I just turned up and started training.”

Maidenhead’s players must have been taken aback when the former World Cup winner and British and Irish Lion just dropped in for training, but Greenwood continued to show up on a Tuesday and Thursday evening and was able to impart some of his experience and knowledge whilst staying in shape. And perhaps something in the club’s ethos also changed over this period, something in its mentality, because the Maidenhead players soon took it on themselves to no longer accept second best. From now on they would #bleedmagenta and mean it.

Success slowly but surely followed, first under head coach Russell Bolton, who guided the club to the South West 1 East title, and now under David Mobbs-Smith, who was set to take the club to its highest ever finish in the South West Premier – and a probable play-off match for promotion – before coronavirus brought the campaign to a premature halt.

Reflecting on the impact he’s had at Maids, Greenwood said: “After a year and a half I took the senior boys out for a curry and I said: ‘What are you doing?’

“Some of the lads were slightly taken aback by the use of the phrase, So I said to them ‘If you just want to come in and play a game of touch rugby on Tuesdays and Thursdays that’s fine, but you can’t come in and whinge and say you’ve played badly, or the referee has turned against you if you don’t commit a little more. So make a decision as to what you’d like to do. Do you want to be better than you are? If so we’re going to have to change the culture and the systems and the methods of training to improve the fitness and the accountability.”

Maids missed out on promotion this season after the final placings in the South West Premier were calculated using the RFU’s ‘best playing record formula’, however, they’ll have to face up to new challenges next season after being switched out of their league and into the equivalent London and South East Premier Division. It’s a new challenge for the players to get their heads round, but Greenwood will likely be there most weekends, supporting the team from the touchline, or more likely from behind the posts, scrutinising the handling and running lines of the backline in minute detail.

“Under Russell Bolton and David Mobbs-Smith I’ve remained a volunteer,” he said. “I prefer to do it on a voluntary basis because it means I can tell people what I think of them without worrying about getting a P45.

“We’ve just gone along, got a promotion pretty early on and the reality is we’ve finished third, third again and we were in the mix again this season. We’ve played like absolute numpties in two or three games though and we’ve had to tell the lads some home truths. But we can only do that because they’re good enough now to realise that certain standards aren’t good enough. Too many times they’ve dipped below the line.

“They would be in a better position if they realised how good they could be. That’s why I’m a harsh judge on them. I want the lads to turn up and be better every time they leave the training field. Sometimes that irritates them and gets under their skin, but that’s always the way I’ve been.

“We’ve got a really good coaching and senior leaders group now, and the tone of the coaching has changed in the four or five years I’ve been here. When I first started it was much more friendly, friendly, nice, nice. The players were nice lads, but the quality of their play, their ability just wasn’t good enough to be aggressive and punchy with the feedback.

“These lads now, I’m happy to tell you, can take it. And there are times when I can’t believe what I’m watching. Some of the lack of accuracy or abdication of responsibility is terrible. Because I know that when they play well they could have been top of this league. It’s about getting to the end of the season and having no regrets. It’s about saying at the end ‘do you know what, there’s nothing more I could have done’.

Maids might have passed up their chance of promotion this season, but they’ll get other chances, and, although Greenwood finds it hard to disguise his emotions when performance levels dip, he says the positives far outweigh the negatives at this progressive, forward thinking club.

“Sometimes on a Saturday afternoon I think ‘what the f*** am I doing with this mob?,” he says.

“But, then I turn up on Tuesday and they’re buzzing around and I think ‘I’m not saying that Saturday doesn’t matter, because it does, but sometimes you’ve got to wake up and smell the coffee.

“You’ve got to realise what we’re putting together here. A club that’s at the heart of its community and brings the community together. And we haven’t gone out and brought in loads of players. We haven’t gone to Richmond Park, or Henley or Rosslyn Park and haven’t thrown cash at anyone.

“We have incredible local lads coming through and, occasionally you might need to strengthen in certain positions if you want to go up and compete. But, by and large, most of the lads here live within three postcodes.”

The club remains a work in progress, but so long as progress is being made – or the club is striving for progress – Greenwood expects to be on the sidelines at Braywick Park, coaching and cajoling better performances from the Maids players. He says he’s happy to stay on as a voluntary coach for the foreseeable future, but added that he’ll be gone the moment the club decides it’s happy to tread water in whatever division it’s in.

“I get to 6pm on a Tuesday or Thursday and I’m ready for training,” he said. “I’ve been doing it since 1986. It’s part of my DNA, going down to a club and training. Sometimes I do the fitness, sometimes it’s training. They know I wouldn’t ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.

“The challenge, and I’ve always said this to Boughy (Steve Bough, the chairman), Dick Brown (president) and Myke Parrott (former captain), that it doesn’t matter where we end up.

“But the second this club decides it’s had enough and doesn’t want to be any better, then I’ll go down the road. I’ll take up table tennis or something. It doesn’t matter where you end up, it’s about wanting to do better every time.

“That doesn’t mean you’re a bad loser or a bad sportsman. No it’s about being the best version of yourself. And, if you do that over a number of years, the club will thrive and set the tone for Colts coming through.”