Rugby Union: Norling the trickster of confidence: John Hopkins reports on the man whose powers of motivation have revived spirits at Brewery Field

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The Independent Online
COOLNESS and calmness were not characteristics that were noticeably present in Wales last week. But amidst the euphoria that followed the victory over England there were two rational voices to be heard. One was that of Alan Davies, Wales's coach, who warned against complacency. The other was Clive Norling's, the referee who is director of rugby at Bridgend.

'England should have won the game,' said Norling in his emphatic, lilting voice. 'They could well have had another 12 or 14 points because Dewi Morris's try was a try, and they could well have had a penalty try for Mike Rayer's high tackle on him. Wales were lucky that C Norling was not refereeing in that situation otherwise I would have been under the posts with a penalty try.

'But in saying that, it was good for Welsh rugby to have won and to have got the feeling of winning again at the Arms Park. It's something I can motivate my players with for the rest of the season. Against Llandovery in the Cup in a fortnight's time I can say, 'We're England, Llandovery are Wales', and if we approach it the same way we'll be knocked out of the Cup.'

Wales's revival, if such it is, is similar to what is happening at Bridgend. Just as Wales were in a trough when Davies was appointed coach, so Bridgend were underachieving when Norling began his unpaid part-time job last November. It was not the most obvious appointment for Bridgend to make, even though Norling qualified as a coach on the same Welsh Rugby Union course as John Dawes in 1975. He was not an ex-international, far from it. 'I was on the fringe of first-class rugby. I might have got a game for Neath against Aberavon on a wet Wednesday night when the first- choice locks didn't want to get their hair dirty.'

Yet Norling has wrought a transformation at the Brewery Field. Bridgend were 10th in the 12-team First Division of the Heineken League and had lost six of their first nine games when he took over. Since then, Bridgend have won six of their past seven league games - they beat Newport 17-13 yesterday - and they now lie fifth in the table. .

He ascribes his success to his introduction of business techniques of the sort he talks about when he lectures in corporate policy and marketing at the West Glamorgan Institute in Swansea. Locate the problem, find the solution and then implement it. This is what he tells his students to do; ergo this is what he had to do himself.

He decided Bridgend's problem was a lack of confidence (shades of Wales), and so the solution was self- evident: make them believe in themselves. He set about applying his solution with a will. 'I made the point to them that I don't want to be associated with an unsuccessful team. I've been successful in rugby for most of my career. They are good players, they had to believe in themselves. The time for talking and moaning and finding excuses had to stop. In fairness they came out and put 25 points on Newbridge in our next league match and all of a sudden the boys started believing in themselves. That makes managing so much easier.'

It worked so well it could be a case study for those students of his who looked around Bridgend rugby club recently as part of their course. Indeed, Norling has started an external masters degree with Stirling University and his project work will revolve around Bridgend.

Hard games lie ahead for Bridgend in both the Cup and the League, even though they have all but removed the fear of relegation, which was a possibility after the way they began the season. But they need to raise their standards much more if they are to join Llanelli, Swansea and Cardiff as one of Wales's four leading clubs, an aim of Norling's.

Norling adopts a proprietorial role when talking of Bridgend. He refers to 'my forwards and my backs'. He is grateful for the coaching and fitness advice he is receiving from the former Lions J J Williams and Steve Fenwick. He says he wants to tackle off-the- field matters, 'to bring the club up to the Nineties and get it ready for the year 2000'.

His term expires rather sooner - at the end of April when he will see whether his injured back has recovered sufficiently for him to return to refereeing. He wants to go on until the end of the first week in May, explaining, with a smile: 'That's when I hope Bridgend will be in the Cup final.'

Norling has never doubted himself. 'I felt I could come in and breed a bit of confidence in the players because I've always had confidence in my own ability as a referee. I had never been in the situation of running a rugby team but I had been in the situation of controlling 30 players on a rugby field and trying to get those players to perform to the best of their ability, and that's man management. There are a lot of coaches in Wales with a far better knowledge of scrummaging technique and of threequarter play than myself, but, hopefully, I can man manage well. That's all it is, man management.'

(Photograph omitted)