Blackpool Gazette’s Sports Editor Andy Moore spoke at the end of last week to Chris Briers and Alex Loney, Fylde’s new Joint Head Coaches. Reproduced courtesy of the Gazette.
Chris Briers has no doubt that he and fellow Fylde RFC team boss Alex Loney will have differences of opinion – but that won’t prevent their new role as joint head coaches from working well. Following Warren Spragg’s move to Sale Sharks, Briers and Loney are to share the lead role at the Woodlands, where both served as Spragg’s assistants and as players for the past decade.
Versatile back Briers has topped 400 National League appearances, more than half of those for Fylde, scoring 63 tries for the Woodlands club, and like Loney, he is delighted to step into the top job. Both 37-year-olds are well versed in the Fylde philosophy … but don’t expect them to agree on everything.
Briers told The Gazette: “We’ve both been here a long time and consider it to be our club. We’ve built up strong relationships here over 10 years.
“Mike Brennand (Chairman) was here when I started and I’ve worked with Dave Young (Chairman of Rugby) for the last few years. It’s good to know they believe this is the right way forward and we do too, so the continuity is good for the club.
“I think this is good for everyone. Spraggy has his chance to move on and move up, and has left the club in a good position. He started to build something here and hopefully we can take it on to the next level.
“The timing is ideal in that Alex and I are finishing our playing careers just as Warren is moving on. We’ve known each other for many years and we’ll specialise in our own areas [with hooker Loney focusing on the forwards].
“We don’t always see eye to eye and we do have different ideas, but neither of us are so stubborn that we won’t come to an agreement.” While Loney told The Gazette he is resigned to hanging up his boots, Briers wouldn’t mind a few more run-outs.
The Myerscough College sports lecturer added: “If we do get any games this season I’d like to play, then by keeping in condition I’ll always be available to play if necessary next season, if there’s a shortage. But we are pretty solid in the backs and have decent strengths in certain positions.”
Like everyone at the club, Briers hopes some rugby will be possible this season, if only to ease pressures ahead of the 2021/22 campaign.
He explained: “I can’t see us playing any competitive fixtures as such this season but it would be great if we could get some local friendlies played. I wouldn’t like to start next season having had no rugby for 18 months. That could put more pressure on pre-season and risk injuries if we had more warm-up games.
“If we can get a few games played in the spring, then everyone would remember how to play and we could have a normal pre-season.
“It would also be good to get crowds in for some local games before next season and bring some revenue in for the club.”
Briers accepts that next season may have to be played under hybrid rules, reducing close contact at set-pieces.
“We’re unsure if we will be playing an adapted game in September,” he said. “It could be that next season is played under different rules and we go back to normal rugby the following year.
“In an ideal world, we’d be back to normal this September but everyone just wants to play some form of rugby. So if hybrid rules are the only way, we’ll suck it up, get out there and do our best.”
Fylde RFC’s new team bosses will be sure to put forward a consistent message as they share the same ambitions for the Woodlands club.
So says Alex Loney, who forms half of the new head-coaching duo at Fylde alongside fellow senior player Chris Briers.
Following the announcement that Warren Spragg was to leave his post after three and a half years to become full-time kicking coach at Sale Sharks, Fylde wasted no time in promoting his assistants Loney and Briers to share the head coaching duties. It is an arrangement which delights hooker and occasional prop Loney, who is confident it will work whenever Fylde are able to return to a rugby field.
He told The Gazette: “We’re very excited and it does mean a lot after nearly 10 years at the club. I’ve made a lot of good friends here and it feels like the right move. I’m ready for more responsibility and I couldn’t feel more supported by the club. Mike Brennand (chairman) and Dave Young (Chairman of Rugby) laid their cards on the table straight away and they have bright hopes for the club with us at the helm.”
The finer details of how this joint-management system will work are yet to be ironed out but Loney is convinced he and Briers will complement each other well.
“I’m a forwards expert so will be taking the lead in that area, while Chris focuses more on the backs,” he explained. “I’d be lying if I said we’d finalised every detail but we have said we’ll make sure the message is consistent. We have confidence in each other because we are on the same page and we respect other after many years.”
An issue Loney appears to have made a final decision on is hanging up his boots after a distinguished professional career with Nottingham, Avignon and Rotherham as well as Fylde, the club he joined in 2011.
He added: “It’s a question that’s been lost in all this and nothing has been said officially, but I’m probably done playing because of the new role. I’m 37 and have come through various injuries. I was unsure about carrying on beyond this season, but with the extra responsibilities the playing side probably needs to go. I’ll focus on coaching because the players need a clear message.”
When that coaching can begin in earnest remain unclear. The idea of salvaging this season with a one-off competition for National League clubs remains on the table, though it seems unrealistic for this to start as planned next month.
Loney said: “We’re at the mercy of the decision-makers. We know they are thinking positively, and as soon as it’s okay to train we will get on with it and make a plan, though I think we are probably looking more to 2021-22.”
That will mean negotiating new contracts with players on one-year deals and Loney said: “That will be one of the early jobs to get sorted. We have full confidence in these players. There’s no need to chop and change because we are really happy with the squad. We know the talent we have and that the relationships are good, so we are hopeful of keeping the squad together and confident we can take it forward.”
The 2021-22 campaign is due to be the final one for the current National Two system before its two divisions of 16 become three divisions of 14 the following year.
The restructure has few fans at Fylde but Loney is determined to look forward. “The masses have spoken,” he said. “Throughout the whole RFU there are different views and it’s happening. Next year it’s still National Two North and it’s natural for us to go at it, then reassess once we see what the following year looks like in terms of the make-up of the league.
“It will be difficult after a year without any rugby. It’s a case of getting back playing again, getting the club busy again and getting through this year. It’s also about enjoying the game. The squad is ambitious and wants to win games but we’ll make sure the players go out there to enjoy it.”