New Bury St Edmunds head coach Ollie Smith believes he can utilise his experiences from all levels of the game to help The Wolfpack achieve their National League One ambition.
The former British and Irish Lions centre has a glittering playing background which saw him win rugby’s top prizes in more than 180 appearances from Premiership powerhouse Leicester Tigers, as well as tasting life on the continent with Montpellier and representing his country and the Lions.
But he has already tasted the highs and lows of coaching since having to retire from injury aged just 28, from taking Esther into English rugby’s second tier and a season as assistant coach in the Premiership with London Welsh, to a 20-game losing streak with Barking at the end of last season which saw them relegated from a league two levels below Bury.
And it is that kaleidoscope of experiences which he feels best equips him to build on the foundations Gavin Hogg left and take Bury to the next level.
After admitting his surprise at finding himself in charge of Bury’s third season in National League Two South — with ex-Northampton Saints centre Jon Clarke having moved on for personal reasons without having taking charge of a game — he said: “I am very much developing as a coach; I do believe I have a very good understanding of the game.
“The challenge for me is to get that understanding and my experience across to the players.
“I have had some really good experiences and some really bad experiences. But they are all experiences that will, I hope, make me a better coach in time.
“If you look at my coaching CV I have coached in National One with Esther, the Championship for a couple of seasons, a season in the Premiership with London Welsh. I have had a couple of seasons down at Barking in the lower echelons at Level Six and Level Seven, so I have got a broad experience of all sorts of environments.
“And when you come into a part-time environment, which we are here at Bury, sometimes you have to be quite flexible and understanding of what you can do and can’t do.
“From my time at Esther it is quite similar to this and there are bits from London Welsh that I’ve thought I can bring in, and bits from Barking that I have thought ‘do you know what, that could work here as well’.”
He added: “The set up here is fantastic and the last two seasons they have had been successful, and by their standards, unsuccessful, finishes to their National 2 status (6th & 11th).
“For me this club has everything it needs; certainly to go to National One, if not beyond. The challenge going beyond National One will be down to what the RFU are doing with the Championship with full-time clubs or going more part-time, as some are doing.”