Doncaster Knights: Extended interview with new head coach Tom Smith
New head coach Tom Smith is determined to help Doncaster Knights regain their place among the Championship’s elite.
The former Scotland and British Lions loose head prop was the stand-out candidate during the interview process in April.
He will work alongside long-serving director of rugby Clive Griffiths – who has been at the helm during the most successful period in the club’s history – prior to taking over from him at the end of the 2019-2020 campaign.
Steve Boden, who played nearly 200 games for the club between 2005 and 2012 before moving into coaching at Jersey, also forms part of a new-look coaching set-up at Castle Park.
“I didn’t know Steve but he seems like a good addition to the coaching team,” said Smith.
“He played for the club and knows the history of the club, which is important, and he’s also done well (as part of the coaching staff) at Jersey and Yorkshire Carnegie.
“I think it is going to be a good working relationship.
“It has been so far so good working with Clive. We just need to clarify who is responsible for what going forward.”
Smith got his first taste of coaching, as forwards coach at Edinburgh, the same year he hung up his boots.
“I think with hindsight it would have been better for me to have the opportunity to go and learn rather than going straight into coaching but it doesn’t always work out like that,” he said.
“Since then I’ve worked at several clubs in France and have also been working in Hong Kong this year.
“It was a tough environment in France because some of the clubs I was involved with had financial problems and when you are in a situation where people aren’t getting paid it can be difficult. But in terms of developing my philosophy and learning as a coach it was good.”
Smith was made aware of the Knights’ Premiership aspirations during his interview.
He is also aware, as are the club’s wealthy benefactors, that next season could possibly be the last of the current one-up, one down format.
“There does seem to be a general consensus (among Premiership clubs) in favour of ring fencing,” he said.
“But if you take that incentive (promotion) away what happens to the clubs in the Championship and below?
“You look historically at the Championship and the fact that Exeter Chiefs came up through the ranks.
“They were in the Championship the same season that Northampton were. They were beginning their journey but they were already on the road.
“I don’t think that the Championship clubs are necessarily recognised for the value they bring the game including the development of players.
“If you take the threat of relegation and the incentive of promotion away (from the top two leagues) I’m not sure what that would do to the game going forward.”
Following back-to-back campaigns when, for various reasons, Knights have failed to live up to expectations, Smith wants to make them a much tougher team to beat next season.
A lot of work will be focused on the pack in coming weeks.
“Traditionally, part of the Doncaster DNA is that teams coming here are going to be in for a hard game because the forwards are physical and rugged and teams are going to have to be good at the set-piece,” he said.
“We are probably going to work on the contact area and perhaps mobility as well in order to bring our physicality to the game outside the set-piece.”
Smith is anxious to assure supporters that Knights will continue to play an expansive game.
He said: “There is a lot of talk about structure, and you need structure as a basis to build your play but it doesn’t define who you are.
“You want players to feel empowered to play what is in front of them. I believe that players should be trusted to make decisions.
“We can look later whether it was the right decision or the wrong decision and we can work on things like execution.
“But if you remove the capacity for players to play what is in front of them then your parameters are too rigid and they become fearful of playing and that is the last thing you want.
“The Championship is a good league and if you look at the clubs who are in it it is quite an interesting mix.
“I’ve obviously not seen the players play yet but I’ve seen them working in pre-season and their enthusiasm has been great.
“I think we’ve added some good players to those who were already here and we’ve got 32 players.
“We are looking to bring in another four players and we might look at the World Cup and bring in someone different. You never know.”
Looking ahead to the start of the Championship campaign, Smith said: “Newcastle will obviously start the season as favourites given their parachute payment and everyone will be looking to beat them and that is something that they will have to deal with.
“The target for us is the top four. I wouldn’t say anything better than that would be a bonus. I don’t want to limit my ambitions.
“I want us to finish as high as we can and see where we can take this squad.”