‘Straight-forward people cannot mingle with dishonest people’ | Sunday Observer

‘Straight-forward people cannot mingle with dishonest people’

21 November, 2021
Murcott completed a Dubai Sevens ‘double’ with Sri Lions in 2019
Murcott completed a Dubai Sevens ‘double’ with Sri Lions in 2019

Havies guy Richard Murcott went from a nobody to a somebody to become a Dubai Sevens ‘double’ winning super coach:

Great players don’t necessarily make great coaches be it rugby, cricket or any other sport. At the same time just because someone has all the qualifications it does not guarantee success. A coach requires tons of patience, good communication skills, an analytical mind and willingness to soak in knowledge to achieve results.

Richard Murcott was an ordinary player at St. Peter’s College, Colombo and later Havelock SC but has displayed great potential as a coach ever since he guided the ‘Bambaras’ to the B division Sevens title before heading to Dubai where his credentials made him a top flight coach.

Roped in by former Isipathana, Sri Lanka and Arabian Gulf scrum half Roger Rodrigo to coach the Lanka Lions, Murcott transformed them into a champion team creating history at the Dubai Sevens in 2015 when they won the Gulf Men’s Open title for the first time in their long history. Murcott later repeated this feat when he guided Sri Lions headed by Kelum Sujith to win the title in 2019. Murcott’s unique ‘double’ triumph as coach of two Sri Lankan teams at the Dubai event will be difficult to emulate.

In fact the 2015 side led by former Peterite Madisha Silva would have given the national team a run for their money, according to Sri Lankan experts. What Murcott proved was that goals can be achieved if it is driven by passion and not monetary gain. Above all, he is eternally grateful to his coaching mentor Ana Saranapala for guiding him through thick and thin.

“I have to thank God Almighty, my wife, my parents and then the person who made me into a coach - Ana Saranapala. Without him I would never have known how to get about doing this. I still believe I don’t know even one percent of what he knows. I believe personally, I have a long way to go. I am happy that I am back here because I get time to learn more from him,” said Murcott who returned to the island last year after nearly a decade-long stint in the UAE.

“Initially I was helping out with the Lanka Lions and in 2015 was appointed as their head coach. I have to be thankful to another old Isipathanian and rugby legend Roger Rodrigo who invited me to coach the team. Along with Roger there was Azarath Deen, Achala Silva and Kirk Williams who really supported me,” he said.

“That gave me strength and of course even though I was thousands of miles away, I had Ana Saranapala on the phone almost on a daily basis because I was nervous. I called him, I asked him for notes and I told him what I don’t know. But I followed through with what he taught me when I was handling the Bambaras,” said Murcott who focused on a successful defence strategy.

“We won every domestic tournament. Our try-line was crossed only once. We spent a good one and half to two months just on defence strategies,” he said.

“And then sir (Saranapala) would tell me ‘plot your green zone, plot your red zone, your kick-off’. Roger, Azarath, they really helped me a lot. They were united, no politics involved, no one to pull you down. And the players were all doing jobs. They came for the passion of playing for a team of Sri Lankans at the Dubai tournament,” he said.

“They were in it to win. It was not too difficult because they stuck to plans. We won three Sevens titles and went to the Dubai Sevens playing against international club teams like the Sharks, Harlequins, Exiles and Tigers. We just ran riot. It was unbelievable,” he recalled.

“There was a time when I was blacking out. I called sir (Saranapala), we won the first three matches. Now what do I do? He’s like you do this. Next day we go in and just before the final Asanga Seneviratne (former Sri Lanka Rugby president) also happened to visit that year. He came and said ‘super work Richard fantastic’. He said that the side I had would have challenged the national team (Sri Lanka) effortlessly,” said Murcott who took a break from coaching on the advice of Saranapala after three more years of coaching Lanka Lions.

“Of course, I always coach for free because it’s my passion. I love that. It’s not about money at all for me. So I decided I will give it a bit of rest. And I was doing my (World Rugby) Level 2 also at that time. It was a hard thing but I thought it was the right thing,” he said.

“For some reason or the other, in Sri Lanka there is a habit of hugging positions and hogging it and waiting and not giving the next generation or the next person a chance. People are happy to still be coaching but their teams are still losing. As for me I did not want to hang on to a team, even though we were reaching the knock-out stages every year,” said Murcott.

He was lured back to coach another team of Sri Lankans called Sri Lions in 2019. “They were struggling without a coach. Though a team of Sri Lankans they had Fijians, South Africans and Britishers also playing. They asked me whether I was able to coach but at that time I was heavily into my work and travel because I was always in and out of Europe. I conveyed to them that I can only do exactly four weeks of training. I gave it my all again and it was the 50th anniversary of the Dubai Sevens also,” said Murcott.

Asked what was the secret to his success, he quipped: “I would say it was not a secret. It’s a fact that I was a student of Ana Saranapala. Very simple,” said Murcott who was born into a rugby playing family and played all over as a three-quarter for St. Peter’s coached by SW Chang whom he described as a shrewd tactician.

Murcott is also thankful to his uncle Roshan Deen, a former Havelocks player, referee and a past president. “He gave me a lot of literature when he was refereeing. He even gave me his boots to wear when I couldn’t afford to have boots. He fed the thirst at the beginning,” he said.

Another person who Murcott remembers with gratitude is his late father-in-law Desmond Ludowyke, a Havelocks legend.

When Murcott joined Havelocks he played in the B division but was hand-picked by Saranapala to handle the Bambaras. He also became the youngest rugby secretary of the club when Wimal Senanayake was president.

“During that time Ana called me and said ‘stop playing and take this B division side’. I don’t know why but I always used to pester him with questions. I was worried because there were a lot of senior members here who I think were not very happy with his decision. Bambaras went on to win a Western Province trophy that year. That I think settled a lot of people who underestimated me,” said Murcott who went to the Gulf thereafter.

“I always had the thirst for the game. I love the game and it’s always been about the game and nothing else, not about money, not about politics, not about putting my name on a board or anything. I am not interested because the person who taught me was also just like that. For me I always had to do right by him,” said Murcott who was given a lecture on discipline by Saranapala when he came late as a coach for practice one day.

“He (Saranapala) said, if you can’t come here and be the first on the field before your players come, do you expect those boys to listen to what you have to tell them’. For about 15 minutes I got it from him. Ever since that day I am never late for practice,” he chuckled.

“Whether it was here or Dubai, I am the first on the field. Discipline will allow everyone else to follow through. People want to become champions but they don’t have discipline. Whether it is school, club, national, everywhere it’s the same thing,” said Murcott who felt a coach needs to carry himself off the field as well.

“How you hold yourself in front of your players, what you do is very important. You are giving them instructions that has to flow with a level of authority. It doesn’t mean shouting in raw filth and trying to hit the players and doing all of that,” he said.

He took a swipe at players being poached from other clubs and schools. “Coaching for me is not about going to all the clubs and schools and buying over all the players and putting them here. Coaching is all about looking at talent, identifying and using that talent and winning matches, not buying talent,” he said.

“Under his (Saranapala’s) time at Havelocks, we had players coming from all walks of life. Some of them had never passed a ball to the left or right. They ended up playing for Sri Lanka. That is the mantra that I used. I will always use that thanks to him,” said Murcott who lauded the structure of Lanka Lions.

“Their structure was very simple. They welcomed players to come and play. Nobody got paid but they were rewarded for winning. You came and played because you wanted to play. You could play and you wanted to wear that jersey. Passion comes first, not money. Structure was correct, foundation was firm,” he said slamming the system prevalent in Sri Lanka.

“Over here it’s wheels within wheels, whether it is clubs, schools or Union (SLR). One person pulling because he wants a position or another person trying and going to play in-between certain things because he wants to be the next national coach or next club coach.

“Everybody wants to run very fast but they don’t know where the finish line is. They are running like headless chickens,” he said.

He recalled with pride Havelocks players dishing out quality rugby during his days. “Those players were not paid sky high. They were getting something, small things but what rugby they dished out. Then you go and watch the Warrior Sevens (last month), they can’t pass from one hand to another hand. It’s sad. A half-back can’t send out seven or eight metres of the ball to the pivot’s hand,” he said.

Murcott proposed having a national coaching structure with people of the calibre of Ana Saranapala, Michael Jayasekera, YC Chang and Priyantha Ekanayake. “If you want these people to come in, they are not going to come and dirty their fingers because straightforward people cannot mingle with dishonest people, so you need to drain the swamp if you want to attract genuine stalwarts,” he said.

He also felt the myth of professionalism should be done away with. “I think everybody - players and coaches - should do a job first and do coaching and playing as their passion and secondary thing. And bring down this whole expectation and aura that you have built around you because at the end of the day it comes down to where you are standing on the global stage. Where is Sri Lanka globally? Nowhere. Before we all go there, we all want to become professional players, professional coaches. No need. Go and do a job, come and play like when we were playing quality rugby. Then you build a strong foundation,” he opined.

“Another problem I see is World Rugby conducts level 1, 2, 3. For me it’s a qualification that’s good to have but just because you have all those qualifications doesn’t make you a good coach because if you can’t read the game and read the player and create plans to outwit and outsmart the opposition, you are not a coach. It’s going to take time and patience,” he said.

As for his future plans, he said he would love to develop juniors. “To be very honest I would love to help my school, my club and at national level but I feel they have a lot of coaches today who are highly qualified and experienced. So I would rather help develop youngsters because I think we have a big problem with junior rugby. Today’s school coaches are also the club coaches. The framework is not right because you are blocking the entry of the next generation of coaches. I think the seniors should go and concentrate on the clubs. Allow the younger blood to come and take the schools,” he said.

“Another mistake we always make is that just because you were a great player you can become a great coach. I see Sri Lanka making that mistake everywhere. The ability to put in that information on the field (as coach) is completely different. That is critical,” he noted.

“You need seniors at the helm telling these little things because the seniors have nothing to gain but with true national interest at heart they will tell ‘son this is the problem, this is the issue, fix this’. Those listening should be open enough to accept that also because if the cup is full you can’t pour anymore water into it. For me as long as Ana sir is around, even if he is in London I will pester him. I need to know because whom do I talk to otherwise. There are many like him,” said Murcott who goes to the likes of Leonard de Zilwa and SW Chang for advice as well.

Murcott’s speciality is coaching Sevens and had the good fortune of having a half-day session in Dubai with legendary All Blacks coach Gordon Tietjens in 2019. “That was a very cherished moment for me even though I’m a Wallaby supporter. There is so much you can learn from them,” he recalled.

He also had the privilege of being invited to the coaches’ box by the RFU at Twickenham, one of 20 coaches invited during the unveiling of the England rugby jersey.

He lamented the erosion of traditions, values and colours at his beloved club. “A club like Havelocks depends on its traditions and its values. So if the values and traditions are lost, then all is lost and this is shown on the rugby field with the results of games. I grew up in this club wearing my pampers and walking there and seeing great games, players and learning of the club’s history. It inspired me to be there. I don’t see families anywhere today,” said Murcott, who was at one time dressed up as a child mascot.

“They used to dress me with the Havelock jersey as a baby. Even the jersey we wear is not salmon pink and chocolate brown. If you don’t know your club colours today then you have a big problem. The Barbarians don’t change their black and white stripes, the Lions don’t wear anything but red. These little things are important,” said Murcott who has ambitions of becoming national coach but is more objective about his goals.

“Maybe I need to set myself a goal that might help the national set up in the longer run. For me it’s beyond rugby. It’s also about moulding good citizens for the country. If you win a trophy, it’s a bonus but if you discipline and put those boys out to play quality rugby but be humble in victory, gracious in defeat and respect the referee, that’s important,” said the 38-year-old corporate head.

Murcott got the best endorsement as being a ‘super coach’ from his mentor Saranapala who also rated Sanath Martis and Shamly Nawaz as top local coaches while having admiration for Leonard de Zilwa.

“Richard can become a super coach if he sticks to his routines and keeps at it no matter what obstacles he faces. I am more than certain that coaches like him have the potential to come up to the international stage. He is a very dedicated guy. I have watched him. He is a perfect man. I have a lot of respect for him. He has a lot of potential in every aspect,” summed up Saranapala.