Leinster’s Welsh strongman embracing fresh challenge

Robin McBryde was a baby at birth in Bangor...

Leinster’s Welsh strongman embracing fresh challenge

Robin McBryde was a baby at birth in Bangor... So begins the Wikipedia page for the newest addition to the Leinster coaching staff. It’s a reminder — if needed — to tread carefully as you scroll through the website’s infinite vault. Turns out he didn’t change his name from Robin Jones after marrying a Scottish woman either.

The remarkable thing is that this red herring isn’t even the quirkiest claim made for him. The line that he won Wales’ strongest man in 1992? Absolutely true. The event was held at the Royal Welsh agricultural shows and tested functional strength rather than dead lifts.

McBryde, then a 22-year-old hooker who was two years out from his Welsh debut, competed with a bunch of bodybuilders who wilted under the stress of six hours in stifling heat spent pulling tractors, filling a trailer with bags of feed and other assorted tasks. As you do.

“It has been quite a burden on me, to be honest. I’ve disappointed many a room when they hear ‘Wales’ strongest man’ and then I walk in. ‘That’s not Wales’ strongest man.’ Because you had Gary Taylor (winning World’s Strongest Man) around the same time. He was the strong man, obviously.”

McBryde was still a good fit for an event that attracted a number of rugby players and which was screened on S4C, the Welsh language channel. A fluent Welsh speaker himself, there is an obvious pride in his country and its heritage as he speaks in Dublin.

McBryde took over the ceremonial role of Grand Sword Bearer at the National Eisteddfod of Wales — a festival of music and literature — from the late Ray Gravell in 2007 after the Llanelli legend had a leg amputated and was unable to carry out the duties.

The invitation came through his honorary membership of the Gorsedd, a community of modern-day bards that has chapters in the various Celtic regions of Britain, Ireland, and France and with a history dating back to 1792.

It’s quite an iconic thing in Welsh culture.

McBryde at Leinster was already an intriguing prospect before this unexpected side was revealed. The news that he would be leaving the Welsh setup for Dublin, after 13 years in the role, was described by Warren Gatland at the time as a huge loss in terms of intellectual property and experience.

The 49-year-old wasn’t impervious to criticism during his time as forwards coach with Wales but he was part of a hugely successful coaching staff headed by Gatland and he understands just how rich a learning experience it was to work with the Kiwi and men like Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley.

“Obviously, the winning formula, the winning mentality, and the nature of Gats himself as well. A Kiwi, his background, he was very familiar with northern hemisphere rugby, internationals, and domestically as well with Wasps.”

Leinster offers a new challenge in a new country and at a new level. Club rugby is a very different animal to its test cousin and McBryde has clocked in only after the World Cup and with the PRO14 season well underway.

It’s no surprise to hear that he is easing himself into the role. Brought in to replace John Fogarty, who is now scrum coach with Ireland, the Welshman is concentrating on the same setpiece for now but there is clearly scope for his wider expertise to be utilised.

“In fairness, both Leo and Stuart (Lancaster) said, ‘just come in and find your feet. Focus on the scrum initially and sort of build it out’. It’s a different language, the nature of the competitions are different, the nature of the working week is different. There’s a lot of change going on.

“So they don’t want to over-burden me from day one. There’s one or two things I’ve done in the lineout, technically, but you’ve got experienced players who have been there and done it, been around the block. You learn as much from them as, hopefully, they can learn from me.”

He was flattered when Leinster made their approach, accepting it was a “no brainer”.

Nothing the team has achieved this last few months has disabused him of the notion that this is ahighly-motivated professional operation that is intent on winning with style and often.

Still unbeaten this season on the back of their seven-try destruction of Northampton Saints in Franklin’s Gardens at the weekend, they approach the ‘return’ European fixture against the Premiership leaders with form and confidence high. Only the very highest standards apply here.

“There’s only one way to go with it,” he laughs when asked about the weight that brings to bear on his shoulders. There’s a bit of pressure, but I’m here to perform as well. I’m conscious of that, I can’t be in the background all the time.

“I’ve to step into the breach and take some responsibility and ownership. I’m just introducing them to different ways of thinking, different ways of coaching. That’s what’s good about the nature of thecoaching group with Stuart and Felipe (Contepomi) from different backgrounds.”

None more fascinating than his own.

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