O'Connell swaps cricket for rugby
IN RECENT years Ben O'Connell's name has generally been associated with his cricketing feats.
In future however, if O'Connell gets his wish, his name will be synonymous with the growth of rugby union at West Moreton Anglican College (WestMAC).
The 2015 Australian Country Cricket Championships player of the tournament took the job as director of rugby at WestMAC this year, having previously worked at Lowood State School.
At Lowood O'Connell was known for promoting rugby, from organising junior competitions for his and other school's students to getting the Queensland Reds out to the school.
So when it came along the director of rugby job at WestMAC was too good to refuse.
O'Connell knows the job is going to take plenty of commitment to see the results he hopes for.
"It's definitely taken a lot of time," O'Connell said.
"There's been a lot of late nights, planning, meetings."
The school has just six teams in senior competitions and competes in The Associated Schools competition.
Unlike fellow Ipswich private schools Ipswich Grammar (where O'Connell went to school) and St Edmund's College, it doesn't have an established rugby tradition.
"I'm starting a fresh with nothing in place with regards to rugby," O'Connell said.
"The school has had some success but large scorelines are a worrying sign. Depth is definitely a concern with numbers not at a high proportion. It's difficult in the area we're in with IGS and Eddies being drawcard schools with regards to rugby. Hopefully we can start drawing some here to the program we are starting."
O'Connell's first task was to write the program.
Next is to raise the standards of coaching at the school and ensure a uniform approach.
"They have a variety of experience," O'Connell said of the school's current coaching team.
"Some are ingrained in the way they have coached for years."
The core pillars of O'Connell's strategy are simple: catch and pass; tackle contact, set piece; and game awareness.
"It will probably take a couple of years," O'Connell said.
"We're trying to re-teach kids the way we want them executing specific skills."
The signs are positive with the grade seven side undefeated this year.
A win with a bonus point today will deliver them the TAS championship. The grade nine side has lost just one match.
But O'Connell knows he has to do all he can to make rugby as attractive as possible to kids.
Last week 95 of the school's children went to Suncorp Stadium to see the Queensland Reds play in the Super 15 competition.
"We're trying to provide as much as we can in positive experiences," O'Connell said.
New training gear is another lure for impressionable kids and part of the reason O'Connell has been working so hard chasing sponsors.