Rugby Union: Quins counting on Templeton: The thinking man's prop turned coach of Australia talks to Barrie Fairall

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The Independent Online
Members of the front rows' union are generally reckoned to be a bit short of the necessary between the ears - too much bone and hardly any of the old grey matter. But while fully paid up members may think he has been letting the side down, Bob Templeton is a perfect example of the thinking man's prop.

Such a creature does not exist, you might say, but when Templeton stopped playing he began to put something back into the game. That input has been considerable, which is why Harlequins are rather pleased that Australia's assistant coach has accepted an invitation to help out at training sessions before their opening Courage First Division game at Bath on Saturday.

With Dick Best's coaching commitments restricted to the England cause, Quins have been only too happy to listen and learn from the knowledgeable 60-year-old in the green and gold tracksuit. 'It has been a revelation for the boys,' Peter Winterbottom, the Quins captain, said. It was the England flanker, at present recovering from a hernia operation, who had some influence in tempting Templeton to The Stoop.

'I've known Peter for quite a while and Colin Herridge, the secretary, too. They asked me if I'd like to come over for a while and I thought that would be a great idea,' Templeton said. While he returns home today to help the Wallabies prepare for their tour of Ireland and Wales, he will be free to return to Quins after the final engagement of the 13-match tour at Twickenham on 28 November against the Barbarians.

Front row life may be rough and ready, but you would never describe Templeton as anything other than a perfect gentleman. That may sound a trifle old fashioned nowadays, but he has time for everyone and you feel nothing is too much trouble. Quins have made a great catch, no doubt about it.

Just to hear Templeton reminisce holds the attention. 'I never really reached any great heights as a player, you know. I played for Brisbane as a prop, but never for Queensland. Then I hurt my neck and my knee. I never had any pretensions of becoming a great player. Let's say I was enthusiastic.'

He speaks quickly and you hear every word. Why? 'I was an auctioneer for 26 years, cattle, sheep and so forth, and then I moved into the insurance industry. Quite a change.' And, on and off, he has helped change the face of Australian rugby since he was appointed coach for the 1971 tour of France.

That run continued until 1974 and he was also in charge in '76, '79, '80 and '81. Then came a big gap. 'But I came back as assistant coach to Bob Dwyer in 1988 and I've been there ever since. Bob is an excellent coach. We've been friends for a long while and we get on very well. We don't always agree, which is good, we bounce ideas off one another.'

With these two at the helm, the Wallabies bounced back from the disappointment of the first World Cup to win the second at Twickenham last November. Modestly, Templeton said: 'I'd say we're one of the strongest sides in the world.' England, who contested that final, would not complain if two words were deleted from that remark. Templeton, of course, is rightly proud of all the recent success by Australia, who followed up the World Cup by taking the Bledisloe Cup series against New Zealand and then beating South Africa.

'We're well prepared physically, strength-wise and skill-wise. In latter years we've also become terribly conscious of the athletic ability of players. We try and work hard with our athletics coaches to give the players that extra little bit of pace. I think the England side are also well aware of what's needed.'

The same does not apply to some club players over here. 'You see, it seems to me that some play rugby to get fit, whereas I believe you should get fit to play rugby. I'd say from my brief look that fitness is one of the things the average player needs to work on here, particularly in the early part of the season. The role of a coach is to help players improve to achieve their ambitions, but I don't believe a coach can make a player. I'd hate to think we'd turn our players into robots. Coaching is teaching skill, technique and creating situations where you can help players in their decision-making process at practice.

'When you talk of coaches, 'Doc' Craven had an enormous influence in South Africa in the Fifties and Sixties. I had an enormous admiration, too, for the Lions coach, Carwyn James. I called him the intellect of rugby football, a magnificent coach. I rate Ian McGeechan of Scotland very highly and, although we haven't seen Dickie Best long enough at international level, he's going to be an excellent coach. He's got a great record with his club Harlequins and so far with England last year.'

For the Five Nations' Championship, when England will pursue a record hat-trick of Grand Slams, Templeton warned: 'You can never underestimate France, and Pierre Berbizier will have a big influence. They've got a great depth of players like England. Wales are rebuilding and they'll be formidable opponents again.'

That leaves the Scots and the Irish. 'Scotland, of course, have McGeechan as the great organiser and the Scots really do well, like ourselves, with limited resources. As for Ireland, you never know what is going to bob up. They conned us in '79. Unheralded, they stole our silverware and got out before we knew what had happened. They're great people the Irish and I love going to Ireland.' Which is where Templeton will be dropping in soon, an outstanding coach who enjoys spreading the gospel.

(Photograph omitted)

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