Ronnie Ibrahim | (Pics by Mushtaq Thasleem)

Havelock Sports Club rugby coach Ronnie Ibrahim is a master at handling pressure. This is a time when Havelocks (also known as Havies) need to maintain composure because they head the points table in the domestic rugby tournament after five weeks of rugby. “We don’t talk about winning the Cup Championship as yet. That would put tremendous pressure on the players. We take it match by match,” said Ronnie who signed up to coach the Park Club players this season after largely considering the fact that he will get to work with youth players.

He has been around as a coach for a while and most youth players are familiar with him. He’s not one of those aggressive coaches who’ll blast out orders. But he’s a master tactician. “I read a match situation well and watch all matches whether my team plays or not. I hate to lose,” said the high profile coach who has had assignments with the national teams of Sri Lanka and India.

Ronnie said that he preferred to coach youth players, the ones who have just left school. Most players are comfortable with how he works with juveniles to help them make the transition from school rugby to club rugby. He said he takes extra precautions when trying out a school leaver in the front row during a club rugby match. “Less than 1% of top schoolboy players can straight away play in the front five of a club team. You have to gradually introduce them to the rigours of club rugby. I have seen careers of youth players ending prematurely after being pushed too soon to club rugby,” said Ronnie who added that he made schoolleavers initially play five or ten minutes during club rugby matches before raising the bar for them.

However, the Havies coach said that he disliked when players made too many demands from clubs. When players make unreasonable demands, he is quick to ask, “Are you a professional.” He said that players must first play for a club without asking for a fee and then sign a contract after proving himself. I believe a player must first learn to play for himself. Then he will learn to play for a club,” he said.

He opined that the inter-club rugby tournament should feature more teams and should comprise just one round. He also wishes the gap between teams in terms of strength should be at the minimum and all games should be competitive.

Ronnie is an unassuming guy and doesn’t mind it when spectators walk up to him and give him advice. But in reality does he take spectator advice? “Not really. Each person has different perspective about player strength and how a game is going to go. So I keep planning to myself, but give an ear to whoever who speaks to me because I just want to be polite,” said Ronnie who hails from a family which has close ties with rugby.

He said that he is a keen observer of rugby matches and can predict the future of rugby players. He also shares knowledge with other IRB-accredited rugby coaches.

Apart from coaching his team, he also works closely with the team’s trainer. There are occasions when he would demand from the trainer to make a player gain weight or slim down and get wiry. He said that when a coach supervises what duration a player is involved with each game, larger are the chances of enhancing the length of a player’s career.

As for Ronnie, he has a habit of being inclined towards focusing on the near future. According to how he explained his training philosophy, it seems Havies have mapped out how they’ll win over their opponents in the next game, but haven’t brought to the discussion table the strategies needed to bring home the glittering trophy. But as an individual and an experienced coach he said he has mentally revised the moves which would make them finish the season on a high.

In this much-followed and looked forward to domestic rugby tournament, there is only a single expatriate player and two foreign coaches doing duty for the clubs. Does he support the inclusion of expatriates? “There are two aspects to it. One is that when expatriates are allowed to play alongside Sri Lanka players, the locals see their tackling improve by leaps and bounds. But on the other hand when the doors are opened for expatriates to represent clubs, it greatly discourages schoolleavers from trying their luck at domestic rugby, he concluded.