Nick Kennedy’s journey to his current position as London Irish’s Academy Director has spanned across two countries, two rival London clubs and delivered him with a Heineken Cup in the process.
Unquestionably it was his time as a player with London Irish that endeared us all to the 6 ft 8 in lock and his pairing with Bob Casey in the second row will live long in the memories of all that had the pleasure of watching them take to the field. Now, it is the combination of his wealth of rugby knowledge and first class man management skills that see him leading the Exiles’ academy assisted by Declan Danaher & Paul Hodgson.
As a player Nick was, in his own words, a late bloomer as he didn’t truly take his rugby seriously until his second year at Portsmouth University. Nick signed his London Irish contract in his final year and from there flourished. Needless to say Nick’s focus on his education didn’t hold him back and there are others coming through the Aviva Premiership right now that are doing the same. In his current role he and his coaches are acutely aware of balancing promising players’ educations and training as Paul Hodgson shared;
“We have a responsibility to not only improve the guys as rugby players but as individuals. The three of us want to progress their rugby skills, we bang the drum hard about studying as well as playing rugby and we care about them.”
Speaking with Nick it is interesting to hear what he is looking for when it comes to identifying future talent. When Nick sees players at a young age, U13s for example, the focus is very much on their aptitude and personality;
‘We look for individuals with a competitive character that have a talent. Talent in the form of one exceptional attribute on the field be that speed, spatial awareness or agility for example.’
Of course as you move up the age groups positional attributes become more important particularly in specialist areas like the front row however at the heart remains those players’ personality traits;
“They have to want to improve. There is no point in the teachers or coaches telling you that you need to practice or put in the work, players need to want to get better and have that growth mind set. We talk about a relentlessness, for to be the best you need to be extremely hard working and constantly focused on trying to improve and get better.”
Historically London Irish’s academy has been a fruitful breeding ground for exceptional talent; Alex Corbisiero, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Max Lahiff and the Armitage brothers are just a few graduates however as you can see there is a trend… none are at London Irish now. That is something that irks their Academy Director just as much as it does their fans and one of his major goals is to not let that happen under his watch;
“We’ve got good players coming through and it is ensuring that they are learning and playing an enjoyable style of rugby and importantly that when they pull that jersey on it means something to them. It should mean something to you playing for London Irish and that comes from the experiences they have playing together, winning or losing and the memories they are creating as team mates together.”
For aspiring rugby players coming through the message from London Irish’s Academy Director is clear the key is to show your personal attributes as well as your physical ones. The myth that only the largest and strongest individuals capture the eyes is a false one, instead attitude, personality and a desire to succeed are just as important.