Planning key as Forrest attempts to grow Team GB culture

Great Britain women's sevens coach Scott Forrest talks to World Rugby about plotting a path to Tokyo 2020 while balancing his day-to-day commitments in Scotland.

By his own admission Scott Forrest is a coach who likes to plan.

That approach has helped the 35-year-old transform Scotland's women into contenders for a core team spot on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

It is also why Forrest has made monthly visits to Teddington, a leafy suburb of London, since he was appointed Great Britain women's rugby sevens head coach at the beginning of October.

Forrest describes the period since his appointment was confirmed as “surreal”. His day job with Scottish Rugby is as busy as ever, the desire for World Series qualification no less pressing, but he understands time is of the essence if an Olympic medal is to be won.

That is why he has spent a few days a month in camp with England women, getting to know his Team GB assistant Charlie Hayter and the players who will likely form the base of his squad in Tokyo.

“The reality is, England are the only full-time programme when it comes to [women’s] sevens,” Forrest told World Rugby. 

“They’re the only country playing on the world series, so Scotland and Wales there’ll be potentially some players involved in the training squad but obviously they’re going to be slightly behind just purely because England are doing it day to day and playing on the world series. 

“So, Charlie was one of the first people that I spoke to and from my end Charlie has been excellent. That’s one of the bits that I’m excited about, is working with him.”

The former Scotland sevens captain added: “I’ve coached against [England] quite a lot as Scotland coach, so you do a lot of analysis on them as players but I don’t know them as people. 

Combining resources and knowledge

“So, I think that’s been very, very beneficial for me, just the last few visits being down. It has been short visits but just being able to have small conversations with people off the pitch that’s going to be really important. 

“The more I can do that and actually develop some relationships with players and staff then the easier it’s going to be when we actually get up and running as Team GB.”

Forrest is keen to run regular training camps, world series and Women’s Six Nations commitments permitting, for a wider squad of English, Scottish and Welsh players starting in January.

Olympic preparations will step up in June, once the world series has finished, but Forrest is eager to create a ‘Team GB’ ethos that players can buy into long before his final training squad is announced.

That is an idea that has crystallised for Forrest following conversations with Simor Amor, who led Great Britain’s men to silver at Rio 2016 and will again be in charge in Tokyo in July.

“Teams on the world series, their advantage is they’re together just now and they’re preparing and they’re going to come off the world series and go into the Olympics,” Forrest explained. 

“You can flip that and use it as our advantage to say well, actually no, we’re now combining the best of three countries. Not just in players but also in resources and knowledge.

“I think the big learning from Rio was really embracing Team GB and the culture with that.”

Setting a “realistic” marker

There is a lot of rugby to be played in the seven months leading into Tokyo, but while not ruling it out, Forrest is reluctant to declare his side will travel to Japan in pursuit of gold.

England have not won a world series event since Rio 2016 and finished on the podium only once in three seasons between 2017-19. But Forrest sees reasons to be positive in the more settled squad that new England coach Hayter has been able to select for 2020.

“Just now I think it’s hard for us to say ‘Yeah, we’re going to win gold’,” he added.

“England would have had to win a world series tournament at some point in the last few years to be able to actually say ‘Right, that’s an objective, realistic marker’. 

“Whereas, saying we want to go on podium, as in we want to be on the podium and win a medal, for me that’s achievable. And that’s the challenge just now. 

“Now, don’t get me wrong, when we get together in June and we know what our squad make-up is and we’ve got a much better idea of where we’re at as a group we might sit down and say, ‘Yeah, our target is to go and win gold’ because of what’s happened over the next 10 months.”

Forrest admits that planning will also be essential to combining his two positions with Scottish Rugby and Team GB effectively. 

But, with world series qualification and a potential Olympic squad place at stake, not to mention a Women’s Six Nations campaign for many, he is confident Scottish minds will remain focused.

World series the target for Scotland

Scotland led with six minutes of the 2020 series qualifier final remaining against Brazil before succumbing to a 28-19 defeat in Hong Kong last April.

June’s series debut as the invitational side in Biarritz was subsequently bittersweet according to Forrest, because while a draw with England and defeat of Ireland proved they could compete at that level, it also showed them “what they could have had, had they won Hong Kong”.

Forrest learned much from the experiences in Hong Kong and Biarritz, as he did when coaching Scotland’s men in London and Paris last year, and he is keen to put what he learned into practice over the next 12 months.

That will include another crack at the series qualifier, and although he accepts the presence of China, Japan and South Africa means it could take a bigger effort from his players to reach the final, their aim is still to win.

“If our top 12 players are fit and able to go to that tournament I’m pretty confident,” he said. 

“We know we can beat Japan because we’ve done it, South Africa, China [we’ve] not played but from everything I’ve seen if we get it right on the day I would be confident that we could win those games. 

“But that’s the challenge with sevens, can you get it right six times over the weekend?”

If they can, Forrest believes it would have a massive impact on women’s rugby in Scotland.

“It would just open a lot more opportunities,” he added. 

“Where we’re at just now as a programme and a union is 15s is our priority, our ultimate aim is to qualify for the [Rugby] World Cup in 2021. 

“Now if we could get a team on the world series, it would help preparing for a World Cup because the reality is we’re not going to get onto the world series as a core team and all of a sudden have more players to be able to run two separate programmes in a year’s time. 

“That’s just not realistic. But what that would do, if we were a world series team, is it would create very good opportunities for our performance players to compete against the best teams in the world.”

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