As part of our partnership with PSA Academies, this week Fifteen Rugby spoke to former France captain and coach Philippe Saint-Andre and former Munster and Leicester Tigers star Johne Murphy about the company.
Prior to the Guinness Six Nations Philippe spoke to us about his rugby career both in and out of the coaching box and gave his thoughts on youth development in France (you can see that interview here), while Johne has been writing a regular column previewing each round of the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior Cup, and making his predictions.
Here though we look into the detail of PSA Academies, what it is, why it started, how to sign up, and plenty more.
Fifteen Rugby: First things first, tell us about PSA Academies, what is it?
Philippe Saint-Andre: Myself, Ian Lewis and Graham Ross set PSA Academies up to run high performance camps and rugby experiences for young players in France and across Europe. I was finishing up with France after the Rugby World Cup and Tignes, where I had brought both Toulon and France for fantastic altitude training camps in previous seasons, had asked me if I would be interested in running rugby camps for young people in the summer. The idea of doing this appealed to me but apart from the vision, I wanted partners who understood youth camps, travel and the commercial side, so that is why I approached Ian and Graham to come onboard. Once that happened, we were lucky enough to add more experience and expertise on the rugby side through Johne (Murphy, ex-Munster and Lescester Tigers player, now coaching in Ireland including as assistant coach to the Irish Clubs side) and Johan Taylor (former Sri Lanka head coach and experienced youth rugby coach in Ireland) plus a great operational team.
Johne Murphy: Yes, for Johan and myself, we’d just started our own RugbyCamps.ie business in Ireland back in 2016 and partnering with PSA Academies was a great opportunity to work with Philippe and the team to really develop a different, and we believe, unique high performance rugby philosophy and development programme for ambitious players aged 10 to 17 years. It’s been a great learning curve for all of us and we’re in a really exciting place heading into Summer 2019.
XV: What inspired you to create PSA Academies and when did you start it, Philippe?
PSA: By the time I finished up as head coach of France, I had spent 25 years playing or coaching at the highest of the game. After the Rugby World Cup, it was a good time to step away from the professional game and I wanted to put something back into the grassroots side. My own son Jules was at an age where he was starting to play the game with his friends and I really wanted them and all the kids who came to the first PSA Academies camp in Tignes in 2016 to experience the best elements of rugby, both the traditional French rugby culture that I grew up with but also the high performance elements of the modern professional game like GPS, nutrition, strength & conditioning, speed & agility training and the rest.
You start with a vision, you make some mistakes along the way, you learn quickly and if you are lucky, you succeed and grow. With a lot of hard work and professionalism, I believe we now have a fantastic programme for all young rugby players who travel to Tignes or any of our camps in the UK & Ireland. Last year, we had over 400 players book, representing 10 nationalities, and it was so rewarding to work with these players and to get such positive feedback from them and their parents after the camps. This is why we do what we do and why we have plans to be even bigger and better in 2019.
XV: Where do you hold your camps?
JM: For summer 2019, we have 7 venues across France, the UK & Ireland. Our Rugby Academy in Tignes for 3 weeks in July remains our flagship programme – the facilities, the setting, the altitude, the overall experience there just can’t be beaten. Where else in Europe, could you be training alongside a Top 14 or Premiership squad on the pitches in the morning and be doing speed training alongside the Olympic World Record Pole Vaulter in the afternoon?! And the fact that our 3rd week this year (Saturday 20th to Saturday 27th July 2019) also coincides with the Tour de France being in Tignes is only going to add to that elite sporting experience.
In the UK, we’re really excited to be offering our first full high performance summer academies in St. Joseph’s College, Ipswich at the end of July and Pangbourne College in Reading in the first week in August. The early interest around both of these camps has been exceptional and with two great rugby venues, we’re expecting two fantastic weeks with players from right across the Sooth and East of the UK.
In Ireland, we’ve merged the PSA & RugbyCamps operations and are now offering high performance residential summer camps in four venues, with Villiers School in Limerick and Wilson’s Hospital School in Westmeath joining the very successful Roscrea and Kilkenny camps that we ran in 2018. As an ex-Munster player, I’m particularly excited to bring our programme to Limerick and I know we’re going to have a massive response from the rugby community there, and Wilsons is a great venue for players in Connacht, Ulster and North Leinster to access, so we’re really looking forward to introducing new communities and clubs to what we do. Ironically, Wilsons Hospital is where Irish coach Joe Schmidt taught and cut his coaching teeth back in the early 1990’s so I’m looking forward to chatting to him about our plans next time I see him. Who knows, maybe when he ends up in Ireland, he might come and do some part time coaching for us!
XV: What can a player expect from a PSA Academy camp and are they the same across each destination?
PSA: Every PSA Rugby Academy is designed to give young ambitious players a chance to experience a high performance, professional rugby-type programme with great organisation, talented coaches, well qualified staff and fantastic activities at high quality venues. Our tagline is ‘Maximise Your Potential’ and when a player comes to a PSA Rugby Academy, our focus is on making a connection with that player and to help him or her to have a fantastic experience in rugby and socially while they are with us
JM: The principles and core skills assessed and developed at every PSA Rugby Academy are consistent but each venue offers different facilities, activities and features for our team and the players to use. So it that way, the players often end up booking into multiple venues during the season to get more than one PSA Rugby Academy experience, plus we get a lot of repeat annual bookings from players as they go through the age grades.
XV: Is it just rugby, or are there other activities too?
JM: The rugby content is key for our programme but rest, recovery and ongoing learning is important for professional players so we recreate that dynamic for our camp attendees. We’ve taken the C.A.R.D.S. (Creativity, Awareness, Resilience, Decision Making, Self-Organisation) principle developed by English rugby and have adapted it for our own programme, ensuring that every aspect of the camp has a fun learning objective, even if the players aren’t immediately aware of it. Even the Kangaroo Court that we run as part of our programme is a fun way for players and staff to engage, communicate and live out the C.A.R.D.S. principles, offer to much hilarity!
XV: How long is a typical camp, is it residential or day by day?
JM: Our Rugby Academy in Tignes offers 7 or 14 night programmes, whilst our domestic Rugby Academies in the UK & Ireland vary by venue, depending on residential v non-residential and the age group of the players involved (the 10 to 11 year old Minis player and our Girls programmes are usually 3 days non-residential or 3 nights residential, with the older boys groups being 5 days or 5 nights)
XV: Who can attend? Is it all age-groups?
JM: Our programmes are generally targeted at 10 to 17 year old, boy and girl players (both UK venues and Kilkenny in Ireland offer girls specific programmes). We split players into three age groups, Minis 10 to 11 years, Intermediate 12-15 years and Advanced 16+ years, to ensure that they get age appropriate training that reflects as close as possible the age groupings that they are playing under with their club or school sides.
XV: What sort of child is it aimed at, advanced players hoping to pursue a pro career, any player looking to improve their game, or just keen rugby players?
PSA: Over our 3 years so far, we’ve had a fantastic mix of players travel to Tignes. We’ve had talented 10 year olds, with great skills, who have come to Tignes from Ireland without their parents and loved it. We’ve had players from France, Ireland, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, Belguim, the Netherlands, South Afrcia, Dubai, Singapore, Canada and more countries so it really is a melting pot of backgrounds, cultures and ages. The common denominator for Tignes is always a passion for rugby, an appetite to learn and an ambition to be as good as they can be in the game.
JM: For our domestic camps in the UK & Ireland, generally our players will have a good baseline of playing skills and experience but coming from the youngest age groups where they may have been coached by volunteer parents, our academy programme is the first time that they will have had formal coaching by a highly qualified professional rugby coach.
All of our Academy head coaches are full professional coaches, with a minimum World Rugby Level 2 qualification (usually Level 3), so with our support staff and highly qualified Academy interns, we have a team that delivers a truly high performance development experience. Every player gets a Player Development Report post-camp to help assess and guide them in their future development and it is great to see some of our Tignes graduates coming through to now compete at the top levels of the elite schools game in Ireland and the UK.
XV: Can teams also attend?
JM – Our Rugby Academies are designed for individuals or groups of friends who might attend from the same area, club or school side. We do offer a niche group tours service and have had some of the top schools in Ireland & the UK travel to Tignes with us in the last 3 years. Our philosophy is all around high performance and development so we’re really only interested in working with really ambitious squads that want more than a standard trip abroad with games and sightseeing. We’re keen to work with Directors or Rugby, coaching teams and players who want to use their tours first and foremost to step out of their rugby comfort zone, to experience new high performance experiences and to come back better. A well organised, professional high performance rugby trip is a unique opportunity for a squad to develop and we make sure that is maximised for anyone that chooses to work with us.
XV: How can a player sign up to attend?
JM: Players and their parents can visit www.psaacademies.com to see the different Academies taking place during this summer and to book. We have a special booking offer running with Fifteen Rugby that gives up to 10% off if you book your place by 30 April and with great interest to date, we’re looking forward to seeing plenty more bookings come through in the next few weeks and months. Interested parents can also download our venue sales leaflets from http://www.psaacademies.com/downloads/.
XV: Johne, as a coach at St Mary’s College you are uniquely placed to be able to answer this, what advantages do PSA Academy camps have for an aspiring school player?
JM: The game has never been stronger down through the age grades in Ireland but there is always a need for education and skills to be coached at the youngest age grades. The Minis rugby game in Ireland, and I’d imagine in the UK and elsewhere, still relies hugely on volunteers, often Dads who might have played to varying degrees of success in the amateur game, to coach large groups of players just starting in the game. That support is vital for the game but it does mean that the players coming into our Academies at 10 or 11 years of age are ready and hungry for more professional coaching and learning about things like nutrition, Strength & Conditioning and more.
For the older age groups, who should be further along in terms of skills and knowledge, our approach for them is to deliver more focus on their core skills’ strengths and weaknesses plus their game understanding and personal development. We’re different from other camp providers in terms of this approach to player-specific development and what the player actually takes away with him or her to aid their long term rugby development.
XV: Of course we can’t speak to you both and not ask about Sunday’s Ireland v France game in the Guinness Six Nations! Neither side have been at their best this year, but France rallied against Scotland and have finally found some consistency in selection, Ireland meanwhile still do have a shot at the championship. What do you both think will happen on Sunday?
PSA: I think it will be a close and very interesting match. The French team is unchanged from the Scotland game, with the back line in particular much better balanced. We have great talents in the half backs but a rainy afternoon in Dublin will be a big test for this team. We know Ireland will play the pressure game and will be desperate to finish the Championship well. I think the French team can cause an out-of-form Ireland problems and if they can stay in touch, I think they can avenge Johnny Sexton’s last minute drop goal from last year!
JM: There’s been so much media scrutiny, I’m sure Joe and the Irish team are just looking forward to running out at the Aviva and playing. With some of the injury worries easing and big names like Ringrose, Stander and Henderson coming back in, it feels like a weight might be lifting and you’d have to back Ireland to play better on a big occasion against France. I’m expecting a much improved performance and a narrow win.
The 2019 PSA Rugby Academies are now live for booking at www.psaacademies.com. Reserve your place on one of the fantastic high performance programmes in the UK, Ireland or France and get up to 10% off when quoting ‘15RUGBYOFFER’. Maximize your young players rugby potential this Summer!