MIKE Blair says that Gareth Baber’s wealth of experience and forensic approach to his work were two key factors behind the Welshman’s appointment yesterday as Edinburgh’s new skills and assistant attack coach. The 49-year-old, who helped mastermind the Fiji Sevens team’s gold medal success at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year, will start in his new role on 1st December.
“I’ve been tracking him for a while,” explained Blair, who took over as head coach of the capital side back in July. “I had differing opinions on the type of person to fill that role. I originally looked at potentially somebody along the lines of what I did for Gregor Townsend at Glasgow at the start of my career, so someone young and enthusiastic and starting to learn the ropes, but the longer I was in the job the more I thought about it being someone I can let get on with it.
“My conversations with Gareth were brilliant,” he added. “I’d come off the phone feeling really enthused about how he’d go about his work in the skills section.
“I think he complements my coaching characteristics, in that I’m a little bit more off-the-cuff – I’ll think of doing something and do it – whereas Gareth is very much about planning it and setting targets. And I think for our guys that is going to be something that is really important.
“With the way I came into the job and it being just me, there has definitely been some areas where I haven’t been able to focus as much attention on, and speaking to Gareth over the last wee while just pushed the decision more to that type of coach who can get on with things and help me a lot with our leadership group through his experiences.
“So, we’re really pleased to have him on board as that senior, more experienced coach – but we also realise that he has been out of 15s for a while, so it is not going to be just a really smooth transition for him into it, because he’s got lots of learning to do as well.”
Having studied at both Swansea University and Oxford University, Baber played scrum-half and wing for Cardiff RFC, Pontypridd RFC, Aberavon RFC, Bristol and Dragons, before switching his focus to coaching in 2007.
He has had spells as an assistant coach of the Wales Under-20s team, working in the Cardiff Blues Academy and as co-head coach of the region, before being appointed Head of Hong Kong Rugby Sevens in 2013, where he directed the senior men’s, women’s and youth programmes.
Blair added that Baber’s deep knowledge of Fijian rugby and the international sevens circuit also counted in his favour.
“Definitely, it’s another advantage,” he said. “He’s worked with the Fijians and knows their mindset and knows our [Fijian] guys which will help get the best out of Lee-Roy Atalifo, Mesu Kunavula and Viliame Mata.
“And it might be that he knows a couple of hidden gems he can bring to the club. There’s lots of stuff going for this appointment.
“It wasn’t something that I deliberately went after but it was an advantage as well to have someone external, who doesn’t know the club or the individuals, so has got a fresh opinion coming in.”
Meanwhile, Blair has made five changes to his Edinburgh side ahead of tonight’s United Rugby Championship round four clash against the Bulls at the DAM Health Stadium.
Flanker Jamie Ritchie has been wrapped in cottonwool ahead of Scotland’s Autumn Test series kicking off against Tonga in 14 days’ time with Magnus Bradbury taking over the No6 jersey., Mark Bennett celebrates his call-up to Scotland’s training squad by replacing Cammy Hutchison in the centre, Argentinean winger Ramiro Moyano picked up a knock during his debut for the club last weekend so is replaced by Damien Hoyland, while scrum-half Ben Vellacott and hooker Dave Cherry drop to the bench so that Charlie Shiel and Stuart McInally get a chance to start.
The home side have a six-two split between forwards and backs on the bench. “One of the Bulls’ threats is definitely their power game in their forwards and that is something we feel we need to combat,” explained Blair. “Also, it gives us the opportunity to potentially shape the game as it goes on.
“If the game breaks up a bit we’ve got Mesu [Kunavula] who can come on and provide something different and we’ve got Connor [Boyle] in there as well who provides cover at openside flanker.
“Our breakdown work is also going to be really important. With Bismarck du Plessis and Marcell Coetzee there it’s going to be a key part of the game. Providing energy in that area is really important to us.”
The Bulls have selected Morne Steyn, the veteran Springbok stand-off who has twice kicked the winning points in a Lions Test series back in 2009 and this summer, on their bench.