JONO COOK talks to Maritzburg College first XV head coach Ryan Kyle
The surnames Kyle and Thompson have been regular occurrences in Maritzburg College first XV team sheets since the 1960s and one of the brotherhood, Ryan Kyle, is head coach of the school’s premier team this year.
Ever since Ryan Kyle can remember, there have been stories swopped and tales told amongst his worthy band of kith and kin who have represented the Red, Black and White’s first XV on the fabled turf at Goldstones, Maritzburg College .
“As a family, the Kyle and Thompson clan have been blessed with the memories and opportunities that College provided. It’s wonderful to reminisce on family holidays of each one’s memories, memories that we all talk about with such gratification. Maritzburg College is close to all of us.”
No less than 12 members of the family played for the Maritzburg College first XV. Ryan’s uncle Rodney, a front-ranker, was the first of the clan to earn the much-coveted White Badge on his jersey. The 11 that followed were either flanks or wings – a remarkable statistic.
Ryan Kyle played on the wing for the Maritzburg College first team in 2000, “the year that College went to New Zealand, winning all seven tour games, under the watchful eye of Messrs Dave Anderson, Lance Veenstra and Bruce Collocott, great rugby men from whom I learnt a lot”.
So, he personally understands what that recognition means, taking the field for the first XV.
“It is a great honour to have been appointed to coach this team; it is an institution that many hold so dear. It is a massive responsibility and one that I looked forward to tackling from the outset. We have a team of passionate coaches and medical staff that all have the same objective – to see the team succeed. The urge to do well and the commitment to this cause is something that drives me.
“Like I said to the players, wearing the Red, Black, and White jersey and the White badge and representing so many current College boys – and the ones that have gone before – is one of the biggest privileges and responsibilities a College boy or coach could have. It’s a team effort.”
So, what is Ryan Kyle’s coaching pedigree?
“I am a World Rugby Educator and have an IRB [International Rugby Board] level 2 coaching qualification. I have coached the Maritzburg College U15A team for two seasons, coached the Southern KZN U21 side for two seasons, was the assistant coach of the KZN U18 Country Districts’ team in 2013 and the head coach of the same side in 2014.
“I have coached 7’s teams to Mauritius as well as assisted with a SA Platteland U19 side that toured the UK in 2011. I coached my previous school’s 1st XV, Creston College, for six years.”
Ryan Kyle is much more than “just” the Maritzburg College first XV head coach – he follows the tradition of teacher/coaches. It is a tradition that appears to be on the way out at many schools.
What is his opinion on the merits and pitfalls of what are essentially, two different job descriptions? There are surely positives and negatives in each case?
I have always had a real love for teaching and it is something that I really enjoy doing. As school sport has become so professional, many don’t see the two working hand in hand. For me it’s really important to interact in the classroom with the boys who I coach in the afternoon. You get such a better understanding of the whole player and not just the boy who rocks up and practices in the afternoon. It is a very busy program and you have to juggle it effectively. I still feel though that you have a more holistic understanding of your players when you also teach them.”
A gentleman in the finest tradition, Ryan is also a geography teacher, the admissions PRO, a life orientation teacher, and a boarder master at Hudson House. A husband and father, too.
How does he fit it all in?
“I am very fortunate that my wife is exceptionally supportive of my career and she has really involved herself in her support of what I do. My kids have grown up next to the rugby field and they absolutely love the game. It’s a very fine balance, I am after all a husband and father first. Education and coaching is a calling, these young players become like your own kids. It’s a real privilege to try and build into their lives.”
In 2015, under then Maritzburg College first XV head coach Francois Lubbe, and again in 2016 under Kevin Smith, Ryan Kyle assisted on the sideline during games.
“We are all passionate rugby chaps and it was wonderful to have been able to assist with calls and general game management on Saturdays. It allowed Francois and Kevin to work through me to the players on the field. I really enjoyed this role. The excitement on Saturday afternoons and the passion during the games are memories I will savour.”
Pre-season plays an important role in readying body and mind for the challenges ahead. How did College approach their pre-season and who was involved?
“The pre-season went well. The players had a positive approach to all their training. They worked very hard during the December holidays on the areas that needed work. Our biokineticist, Jason Greeff, does a great job with the boys’ conditioning. We also brought in an American sprint coach, Chris White, who worked with the boys’ running and sprinting technique on Friday afternoons.”
Is Chris also involved during the actual season?
“Our programme is just so full so we have to balance out our training effectively. I would really like to see athletics become a priority amongst KZN schools again. I firmly believe that athletics and rugby complement each other so well. We are hoping to involve Chris White more and more into the future. We are also really lucky to have an IAAF athletics stadium going up 50m from the school and we hope to make good use of the facility.
“There were some very hot days during pre-season training in the first term, which the boys wanted to work through. It indicated a positive attitude amongst the players. As a coach, that player positivity is exciting to work with.”
So how well has Ryan Kyle managed to gel with his first team squad players?
“I have really enjoyed my time with the team. We have training sessions, gym sessions and video sessions which take up 5 afternoons of the week, so I have got to know them all really well. It’s important to understand that there are 15 different characters and that in order to get the best out of each player one needs to know each individual well. It’s a real brotherhood. It’s often a very nostalgic feeling for me and often brings back fond memories of my time here almost 20 years ago.”
Given the non-negotiable commitment of his players, a coach in the Ryan Kyle mould will give them every possible chance to succeed.
Every coach worth his salt is not afraid to call on outside expertise, when needs be. Indeed, it is as much the people in supporting roles who give the head coach the space, time and opportunity to make his mark.
“Kevin Smith is our director of rugby and is always willing to assist. Tim Orchard, who has been coaching at College for many years, is our forwards coach. He did a great job with the forwards in 2016 and I have enjoyed working with him this season – he is a proud College rugby man. Cameron Fraser, our backline coach, coached the second XV last year. He had a good season with them. He is also the KZN Country Districts backline coach and is a real student of the game.
“Our support team includes our bio, Jason Greeff, who I previously mentioned, as well as our physios, Mike Denton and Kent Yateman, who do a great job in keeping the players on the park.”
As to the available talent this year – and whether it is harvesting its potential at this stage of the season?
“Our aim has been to ensure that the players have the tools they need. So much of where success comes from emanates from having the correct mindset and attitude. The players are extremely motivated to succeed. I believe these ingredients enable the boys to perform at their best.
“Maritzburg College rugby has always prided itself on a very hardnosed, no-nonsense forward dominated game which allowed the backs to get ball on the front foot and score tries. If we get good ball to our backs we have the skill and explosive arsenal to score tries.
“We take each game as it comes, concentrating on how we want to execute our game plan against the team in front of us. Having said that, every coach’s ideal is to dominate upfront and allow the backs to exploit that dominance.”
As many a coach will tell you, executive and administrative support is critical to on-field success, so does the Maritzburg College executive provide Kyle with the necessary backing to secure a strong base?
“I have always received the backing that I need from the executive. They are very supportive and I have appreciated that. Many of them are also passionate sportsmen and women, and are genuinely interested in the wellbeing of rugby and all sports at College.”
At the time of writing, in mid-May – following the meritorious 49-31 victory over long-time rivals Michaelhouse on Maritzburg College’s much-celebrated annual Reunion Day – the Red, Black and White’s first XV had played eight matches, won five and lost three.
That first official match of the 2017 season, Grey College – on Goldstones on the last Saturday of March – it doesn’t come any bigger… and there was talk amongst schoolboy rugby fans that perhaps the timing wasn’t ideal.
In terms of result, Grey won 30-3, but in the greater scheme of things did the scheduling of the fixture at that early stage of the Maritzburg College season bring more positives than negatives?
“We often play Grey at either the beginning or right at the end of the season. They are a wonderful rugby school and their rugby history speaks for itself. We want to test ourselves against the best and for us the timing of the game this year gave us a good indication of what we needed to work on for the rest of season.”
Next up was the St Stithians Easter Festival during the April holidays.
Ahead of the season, Kyle had said he was excited about the different challenges his men in Red, Black and White would face: “Every game is a fresh challenge and our focus centres on controlling what we can control. This approach allows us the opportunity to be the best we can be.”
Looking back, did the Saints Fest deliver the hoped-for outcomes?
“Absolutely, festivals allow you to test the depth of your squad and it’s a great time to build some spirit in the camp before the full season starts. We enjoyed our time at Saints and found full value in what we wanted to achieve there.”
Northwood and Pretoria Boys’ High were consecutive away matches successfully negotiated before hundreds of Maritzburg College boys and scores of staff trekked up to Johannesburg and the annual fixtures with their friends at King Edward VII School (KES).
Those three matches, an overall impression please coach?
“Our fixture against Northwood was played under lights during the week. It was a great experience for the players who don’t often get the opportunity to play a night game. We played well and scored some well worked tries. We did a lot of travelling to the Highveld at the start of the season and we knew that Pretoria Boys High would be tough, especially at home. Both schools share a similar ethos and its one of our highlights during the season. We were down 10-19 at one stage but did well to finish the game strongly, winning 36-24. It was then up to Johannesburg to take on our friends at KES. They are having a wonderful season and we knew it would be a great challenge. We were up at half time but unfortunately ran out of steam right at the end, KES running out deserved winners.”
* Then it is DHS plus the rest of the fixtures – Hilton College on Goldstones at the end of May followed by Westville at home in early June and a set of away matches versus Kearsney College and Glenwood before the July holidays break.
The season wraps up in the third term with Affies in Pretoria, before Pretoria Boys’ and KES at home, the Skonk Nicholson 7’s on August 19 bringing the curtain down on the 2017 Maritzburg College rugby year.
One can only wish the thoroughly likeable Ryan Kyle and his team everything of the best for the rest of the season.
A family’s association with the Maritzburg College first XV
The Kyle/Thompson dozen who played matches for the 1st XV in their day:
Rodney Thompson (Uncle) – 66&67 (Natal Schools) Prop
Geoff Thompson 69/70 Flank
Colin Kyle (Uncle) – 65,66&67 (Natal Schools) Wing
Peter Kyle (Father) – 73&74 (Natal Schools) Wing
Malcom Thompson (Uncle) – 73&74 (SA Schools) Flank
Bash Kyle (Uncle) – 75&76 (Natal Schools) Captain Flank
Mark Kyle (Cousin) – 93 (Natal Schools) Wing
Roger Thompson (Cousin) – 93 Flank
Barry Kyle (Cousin) – 94&95 Wing
Brad Thompson (Cousin) – 96 Flank
Ryan Kyle – 2000 Wing
Shawn Kyle (Cousin) – 01 Flank