In his four years coaching at Sydney Uni, Rob Taylor won four Shute Shield premierships, two each in first grade and first colts.
Considering that, it’s no surprise to hear the coach has been picked up by UK Premiership club Leicester as attack coach ahead of the 2020/21 season.
Taylor is seriously impressive and his success speaks for itself. Before he left, Rugby News caught up with the humble Kiwi to reflect on his time in Sydney and hear his thoughts on the future of our game and competition.
How do you look back on your time at Sydney Uni?
I was very lucky and feel very privileged to have been invited to join the club four or so years ago.
In that time, I’ve been surrounded by so many good people, particularly early on when I worked closely with Carts (Tom Carter) and Davo (Tim Davidson). I really just picked up where they left off and I think without their guidance and education about the club and the history, it would have been a much harder task for me.
They’re two big personalities that I spent the first two years working with, but there are so many other quality people from third colts players to first graders, the alumni, the staff.
It’s just a great place that does help you get better and gives you the potential to create new opportunities for yourself. If you put your head down at this club and grind away, then you’re around the right people who can help you take the next step.
Why is Sydney Uni as a club so successful?
It’s a club that has a fantastic DNA and it’s a club that is filled with extremely aspirational people.
People can like it or not, but players come here on their own accord. Any player that comes here for an incentive, they’re not really the guys we want or the guys that are successful here. I’d say that’s the same at most clubs.
There are so many hard working people at the club and not just when it comes to rugby. If they want to be a builder, they want to be the best builder they can be, if they want to be a lawyer, a social worker, they are people that have high standards for themselves and chase their goals and that creates a really easy environment to coach in.
It’s not hard to challenge guys to strive and work hard because most of them come to the club with that work ethic already.
What do you look back on as your best accomplishment over the past four years?
It’d have to be the 2018 Shute Shield premiership. Grand final day was just incredible. It was beautiful, sunny day and we had 15,000 odd people at North Sydney Oval.
We missed the finals the year before and were written off at the start of the season. Everyone thought we were too young and there was too much turnover and it had been a big transition, but we got it done.
It’s just an awesome season to look back on because we had quite a few bumps along the way but we certainly put in the work to get ourselves to grand final day and then fortunately we were able to perform.
What was your best victory while you were at the club?
It’d have to be last year’s grand final. There’s been a few though and I really enjoyed our win at TG Millner. That hadn’t happened for a long time and some very good Uni teams have visited Eastwood and come up short, so that win meant a lot.
But last year’s grand final was something else though. It was a terrible game for the most part from our side but the guys never stopped believing and then they found a way to execute and win in the second half. It was an emotional rollercoaster.
Which Sydney Uni player that you’ve coached has or had the most potential?
Angus Bell. There are a lot of close seconds, but Angus Bell is going to be a very special player.
He’s just the complete package. He’s an athlete for a big guy, he’s a student of the game, he’s a mature, young person and he’s still got a lot of learning to do on and off the field, but in terms of his age, his maturity is right up there.
He’s still got a lot of lessons to learn and he’s probably going to play against a lot of quality international props one day soon and that will be tough, but he’s the type of guy that will bounce back quickly from that and he’ll still have 12 or so year left in his professional career.
You watched him play Shute Shield last year and he was dominating grown men in his first year out of school, he’s the real deal.
Who was you toughest Shute Shield opponent?
Immediately I think Eastwood. There’s a great love/hate relationship between the two clubs and going to TG Milner is always a very tough challenge. In general, whenever you play Eastwood there is just this bit of extra feeling about it.
I really enjoy the contest and it’s been great to coach against Ben Batger. He’s a great guy and it’s always great to have a fierce rivalry with a club, then be able to enjoy a beer together afterwards and look forward to the next time you meet.
Warringah is a close second. We played them in two grand finals and it’s another really tough place to travel to and win.
How will you describe the Shute Shield competition to those in the UK?
It’s the best non-professional club competition in the world, I really believe that. It’s got a great following, the clubs and the teams put so much into every Saturday, there’s talent everywhere, great rivalries and I really hope they don’t tinker with it.
It’s one of the world’s great rugby competitions.
I think everyone has watched a player in the Shute Shield and thought, that kid is going to be something and it’s always really enjoyable to watch those guys develop.
I think it’s important that they don’t tinker with it too much because the beauty of it is that it is what it is. It’s never going to be completely even, that’s the same in every competition but I think if it continues to build on its history, the competition is only going to get better and better over time.
I look forward to continuing to watch games and hopefully I’ll return one day because it really is an addictive competition to be a part of.
What can we expect from Sydney Uni over the next few years?
The club has always been really good at succession planning and there’s obviously my assistant coach Joe Horn-Smith who I’ve worked with for the past four years. There’s Michael Hodge coming up from colts and there’s Chris Delooze who coached a second grade premiership last year.
I’m a bit of an outlier but the club usually tries to look within for new coaches before they look to recruit and we’ve got a lot of great coaches already in the system.
In saying that, I’m sure that there are a few recently retired former Sydney Uni players out there who are probably thinking about getting in to coaching as well.
It’s not always the answer to look internally but it certainly does help when coaches already know what a club is all about. It’s a bit like the Crusaders model really, you don’t start from scratch every year or every time you get a new coach. You do try to make things better but you keep the program largely the same.
What excites you most about your new opportunity at Leicester?
It’s the Premiership. It’s a massive competition and Leicester Tigers is a massive club. If you’re older than 30, you know of their dominance and their history so I can’t wait to join a club like that playing in probably the most demanding and challenging competition in the world.
It’s only going to bring out the best in me and I’m sure I’m going to learn a lot. I’ve been really impressed by Steve Borthwick, who is coming in as head coach. He’s going to challenge me and challenge everybody because he sets very high standards. He’s coached under Eddie Jones in Japan and England for the past six or seven years, so it’s a really exciting opportunity.
I’m also looking forward to coaching during the day. It’ll be nice to get a few evenings back and maybe eat dinner at a normal time for a change. I’m really looking forward to that as well.