After five seasons of professional rugby, former Ulster and Nottingham back Ricky Andrew called time on his playing career and after a year teaching at his old school, he moved to CAU Valencia in Spain to be the head coach at the club.
Despite having played at the highest level, Andrew knew his future would always be in coaching: “I played professionally for a while, but all the time I was coaching, because I always knew coaching would be what I wanted to do at the end of the day.
“I played professionally. Perfect. Loved it, but I was always coaching and I really enjoyed that side of things too. I studied French and Spanish at university because that was just what I enjoyed.
“When I graduated was when rugby became my job, so I didn’t really speak French or Spanish for between four or five years. So, a complete waste of a degree! Once I made the decision that I didn’t want to keep pursuing professional rugby, just to say that I was a professional rugby player, the opportunity came up to speak with a couple of clubs in Spain.”
Along with his former coach, Brian McLaughlin, Andrew and conversations with a Spanish club but that opportunity fell through, leading to Andrew becoming a teacher at his old school for a year before CAU Valencia came calling.
The players were like little kids on Christmas Day getting a few tips from the big man last night! @CaurugbyVLC— R A (@rickyandrew15) December 12, 2018
Un visitante muy importante anoche ayudando nuestros jugadores con su gran experiencia y conocimientos. Un entrenamiento inolvidable!
“An offer came from CAU, sort of out of the blue and it was perfect. It was a good opportunity because it was a head coach role and I was still able to play,” Andrew said. “That was a big thing for me, I still hopefully have a handful more years playing, so it turned out to be perfect.
“I hadn’t spoken Spanish for four or five years, I just thought this is a good opportunity. I needed my languages back and make this degree worthwhile. So, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been out here for two seasons and it has been great.”
Playing in the second division of Spanish rugby, CAU have had the opportunity to reach the top flight in the last two years, missing out in the playoffs in the season that has ended. With a playoff structure that is currently six games long, teams may also have to play an additional two matches against the second from bottom team in the top flight. Andrew said that although CAU were good enough to reach the knockout stage, they perhaps weren’t ready for another step up.
“You could end up playing eight games, with maybe one weeks rest in between and we just don’t have the physical capacity within our guys at the moment to be able to withstand that sort of intensity,” he said.
“We used GPS and we have a great analyst, a guy called Josh McIlroy, and Josh was able to check out the data from the games.
“Playing against this team in the playoff was just like any other game, but the impacts and collisions were as if we had played a game and a half. The physical cost for our guys was too much.
“There isn’t a huge culture of gym going with rugby, they just think of rugby as a sport. But, there’s nothing to prepare you for that (a higher level of competition) and as the game gets quicker, people make bigger collisions. You really need to prepare physically for it. That’s what we’re trying to do in the hope that all the kids, and the adults, will be prepared so that we can reduce injuries.”
Andrew expressed concerns over rules in Spanish rugby that allow up to eight foreign players on the field at all times which as a result, saturates the Spanish top division with foreign talent. Despite this, Andrew was quick to congratulate the Spanish national team that narrowly missed out on the Rugby World Cup with a controversial loss to Belgium and this summer, they won all three games on their tour to South America.
Rugby: España cierra la gira invicta ante Uruguay y con los tres valencianos en el equipo https://t.co/ss7xeF5AG6— Cau Rugby Valencia (@CaurugbyVLC) June 24, 2019
“The national team have been going from strength to strength,” Andrew continued. “They were very, very close to going to the World Cup. Now, if that had happened, that would have been huge publicity for the sport and would have perhaps attracted more numbers.
“There are very few resources. I went up for a few days to see the national team training and the coach was telling us they had something like six staff employed for the national team and some of them repeat their jobs helping with the U20s and the U18s. They said that if they got to the World Cup, they would have maybe tripled the numbers of staff.
“World Rugby would have funded some of it and then, suddenly, you can start to do things. It sort of just shows how limited the resources are, but even though they are limited, they are definitely improving and growing.”
With increasing coverage of the sport in Spain, Andrew says that if the Spanish 7s team qualify for the Olympics in Colomiers next month, the former Ulster player believes that even more publicity could come the sports way.
“The male and female teams in sevens have done really well. They have really grown over the past few seasons and things like beating England the other day, or having beaten New Zealand for the first time, things like that make headlines.
“Minority nations beating one of the top teams that have been playing for years, that’s great because it publicises the sport. Sevens is a big deal and they’re trying to get programmes now throughout the provinces to help develop sevens players and give them opportunities.”
Still far from a popular sport in Spain, there is around 35,000 registered players in the country. With this said, the country is beating opponents that were perceived to of had more rugby pedigree than them. It is even conceivable that after the heartbreak of not reaching the World Cup in Japan this year, the country could add to their one World Cup appearance in 2023.
Andrew is enjoying life in Valencia too. Recently married, the 29-year-old is helping CAU in any capacity that he can believing that more coaches from tier one nations will help develop the game, rather than a reliance on overseas players.
“This season we had a couple of guys in the Spanish U20s and there’s a lot of publicity at the moment because three of our former players are playing for Spain. I want to be seeing the kids develop from eight years until they’re 24 and maybe play for Spain U18s or U20s and see what they achieve.”