Six Nations Countdown: 'If you are an actor, it's just not acceptable to fluff your lines'

Wales turn to science in a bid to restore their faltering mythology
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By appointing Graeme Maw as elite performance director alongside Warren Gatland as Wales's head coach, the Welsh Rugby Union plumped for an Englishman and a New Zealander to dispel the depression of their exit from the World Cup at the pool stage. "Welsh rugby is more than just a team and a stadium," Maw said. Though he is a Bristolian with a slight Australian twang after years of working in Queensland, he has a Welsh girlfriend to inform that opinion.

It was the team's downfall against Fiji in France which did for the previous coach, Gareth Jenkins, and never mind that Wales put five tries past a team who gave South Africa a terrific contest in the quarter-finals. Jenkins was gone by then; sacked by the chief executive, Roger Lewis, to whom Gatland and Maw will report in a revamped regime including Nigel Davies as head of rugby development. Another English recruit – Wasps' Shaun Edwards – is set to be named as assistant coach tomorrow.

Maw's official start date is 1 February – the day before Wales face England at Twickenham – and he is house-hunting around Cardiff while still based near Loughborough University. This seat of sporting learning is his alma mater, and that of Sir Clive Woodward, whose book on the application of sports science to rugby and business, Winning!, has been enjoyed and often quoted by Maw, although the 43-year-old rates it behind his coaching favourite, Total Rugby by Jim Greenwood.

When Woodward became the British Olympic Association's elite performance director in 2006 he met Maw to compare notes. "What Clive did with England rugby was phenomenal," Maw said. "Find the right athletes, put them with the best coaches and add the facilities, the analysts and all the other support services. Then you cross-reference all of it back to your goal, hence his book's title. Their purpose was to be the best in the world."

Loughborough was also where Maw nearly played in the same team as England coach-to-be Andy Robinson. "I was the second-team full-back when Andy was first-team captain," he said. "I thought I'd be in the first team the next season until Alan Buzza, who was on the way to being an England A player, came along and put a stop to that."

A minor rugby setback, but in his chosen field of sports scienceand physiology he has earned a doctorate and worked with such world-beating British triathletes and Australian swimmers as Susie O'Neill, Keiren Perkins and Grant Hackett.

"One of my start points with Wales will be to benchmark the standards in different areas – physical, technical, tactical, psychological and sociological – which will be needed by a player at the 2011 World Cup. What a player is going to look like in 2011 and even 2015, so that we get down to 12- and 13-year-olds now. Physical standards are quite easy to understand. Psychological is harder to quantify."

The latter phrase could be on the metaphorical headstone of many a Wales coach. The squad were unhappy with Mike Ruddock despite winning a Grand Slam. In Martyn Williams's autobiography, just published, he said he "gave up" expressing his worries to Jenkins over World Cup tactics. Meanwhile, Llanelli Scarlets, who travel to Wasps today, have performed abysmally in this season's Heineken Cup.

Maw liked to challenge his swimmers with a fully fledged time trial when they were expecting a routine session. And he recalls that the renowned Australian hockey coach Ric Charlesworth filled a stadium with screaming kids to replicate a hostile crowd.

But sport can always go wrong on the big day. Maw's swimmers won Olympic gold; the triathletes did not. "If you are an actor you get up on stage to deliver a role you've practised and it's not acceptable to fluff your lines.

"Let's say Stephen Jones can, in training, kick a goal from the halfway line once in a while. The challenge is to raise his stability so that he can do it in a match at a higher percentage rate. The kind of work Dave Alred put in with Jonny Wilkinson's kicking."

So while Edwards looks likely to be wearing Welsh red on 2 February, Maw and his girlfriend have yet to set a wedding date for their own Anglo-Welsh union. But he got a hug from his prospective mother-in-law when she heard about the new job. That's not a bad start.

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