Matt Sherratt on the challenges of becoming Cardiff Rugby head coach
Matt Sherratt is the first to admit he had to think long and hard about stepping up to be the new head coach at Cardiff Rugby.
It was a decision he mulled over for a number of weeks against a turbulent backdrop at both the Arms Park and Welsh rugby in general.
The man he had assisted for the previous two years – Dai Young – had been suspended in April amid accusations of bullying.
An independent investigation carried out by a barrister concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations.
But given the strain on the working relationship caused by the process, it was mutually agreed to terminate Young’s employment contract.
That left a vacancy to fill at the top and Cardiff wanted attack specialist Sherratt to take it on. So the ball was in his court.
He had to consider the fact that the region had lost a whole raft of internationals, with the likes of Liam Williams, Jarrod Evans, Dillon Lewis, Lloyd Williams, Max Llewellyn, Rhys Priestland, Dmitri Arhip, Kristian Dacey and Willis Halaholo all departing amid drastic cuts to the playing budget.
One also wonders whether the situation with Young had a significant bearing on his thought process?
“It was something that was completely out of our hands,” he replies. “As a staff, we were hearing the same as you guys in the press. It was a pretty closed, confidential matter. So I stayed out of that.
“In rugby and in life really, you take people as you find and I had a good working relationship with Dai.”
What was pertinent to Sherratt’s decision however was his own background in the game.
“I’ve never aspired to be a head coach because I enjoy being an assistant,” he explains, while sat down for a lengthy chat in the trophy room at the Arms Park.
“That’s just to do with my personality. My strengths are connecting with players, building relationships and being part of the group. So I’ve never really wanted to be a head. I have just wanted to be the best assistant coach I can be.
“But the reality is I’ve pretty much led the rugby programme both here and at the Ospreys before that. I lead pre-game and half-times. Dai was more of a director of rugby where he was managing staff, budgets and recruitment.
Tactically, I would devise the game-plans and be the major voice in training. A lot of the players and staff were saying ‘Mate, you do it anyway, so why wouldn’t you do it?’
“But what I didn’t want was for it to take me away from what I enjoy which is devising game plans and being on the grass with the players. That’s what I love doing. I am a teacher. I didn’t want to spend time with board meetings, recruitment and other things.
“So my initial thought was I didn’t want to do it. But, obviously, it’s well documented Welsh rugby – or rugby as a whole – is not in a financially great place, so the club needed some help.
“The club has done a lot for me. There are little things like they took my whole family to Bilbao for the Challenge Cup final in 2018. I have loved it here and it has given me a chance to coach Wales.
“I just felt like I owed the club something back. I would have felt a fraud if I was sat at the back of the room, with a group of players who know me well, and someone less experienced than me was doing the head coach’s role.
“I spoke to people I trust, like Shaun Edwards, Steve Tandy, Danny Wilson, Kevin Bowring and as soon as I asked them about it they said they could tell I was enthusiastic and that I needed to do it.
“So it was probably the right thing for the club for me to take it and the more I thought about it, it was the right thing for me to do as well with everything added together.
“If I can just concentrate on the rugby, the game-planning and the coaching it’s fine, because I have enjoyed it so far. It’s just making sure I don’t get taken away from that.”
Sherratt acknowledges he faces a challenging task given the mass departures from the club.
“In the summer, we lost a group of players with 1,610 top level appearances between them, in the likes of Lloyd Williams, Rhys Priestland, Kristian Dacey, Dillon Lewis, Jarrod Evans, Jason Harries, Kirby Myhill, Brad Thyer.
“They are all 100, 200 cappers and we have replaced them with 80 top level caps.
“It’s easy to look at that and think it’s going to be tough and it is.
“But I have been in professional rugby since 2003 and that doesn’t really worry me.
“I don’t really get fazed and I am pretty good at knowing where we are.
“The aim is to get the players to understand that, regardless of the situation here, they are playing for a great club and a great city.
“If we can go out there and show fight in every game and play a brand of rugby that people love coming to watch, I am happy with that.
“If you speak to any player or coach, their favourite place to come and play rugby is Cardiff because of the atmosphere and the city after. So fun and enjoyment is a big part of what Cardiff has always been about.
“The second thing Cardiff is synonymous with is the castle, so we’ve themed ourselves around people are going to enjoy watching us play because that’s what the city and the club has been about, but we are also going to show some fight because that’s what the city and the club is about as well.”
As the 47-year-old Sherratt says, he has been working as a coach for some two decades now. Having been on the books of his home-town club Gloucester as a fly-half in the mid-1990s, he then spent four seasons with Cinderford while teaching at St Matthew’s school in Stroud.
Hanging up his boots at the tender age of 27, he moved into full-time coaching as the RFU’s first community rugby coach in the south west before joining the Worcester academy.
Then came a spell at Bristol alongside Danny Wilson, a partnership which was to be renewed when they linked up at Cardiff, going on to win the European Challenge Cup, famously beating Gloucester in that Bilbao final, while there was a secondment with Wales for the 2017 south seas tour.
Stints at the Ospreys and Worcester followed before Sherratt headed back to the Arms Park in 2021.
Now he is in the hot seat, with Richie Rees, Scott Andrews and the returning Gethin Jenkins assisting him.
“With where we are at the moment, we need people with emotional ties to the club,” he said.
“Gethin has played close on 200 games for the club and cares about Cardiff. He’s technically excellent as well, so he was a no brainer for me.
“The four of us are all on the same page. We are working together and everyone has got a connection with the club. That’s important.”
As head coach, Sherratt will be much more in the spotlight and have a lot more media duties to attend to, but he is comfortable with that.
“I just think you’ve got to show your personality and be honest,” says the man known throughout the game as Jockey.
Now, after two or three months of work on the training ground, it’s time for the opening pre-season fixture, at home to the Scarlets on Friday evening.
So, having had a taste of it, does he feel he made the right choice in taking the job?
“I’ve got no regrets at all,” says the father-of-two.
“I do genuinely love coaching Cardiff. I enjoyed going away to the Ospreys and Worcester. I learned loads and they were good experiences. But I don’t know what it is. There is just a pull to Cardiff for me.
“It’s a club with massive history and a great city and the people are good here. It has got something special about it.”
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