Herring has loved coaching from outset

Otago coach Ben Herring at training at Logan Park earlier this week. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Otago coach Ben Herring at training at Logan Park earlier this week. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Ben Herring will coach his first Otago game this weekend as the Mitre 10 Cup begins. He talks to rugby writer Steve Hepburn about his coaching path and the hopes ahead.

When Ben Herring was playing rugby, the last thing he thought he would do is what he has ended up doing.

Herring was forced to give the game up at the age of 29 in England when he suffered one head knock too many.

The rest of his body was also wonky and feeling sore. He was playing for Leicester in England when he decided enough was enough.

''Going into coaching was not planned at all. I never thought I would go down that route,'' he said.

''When I was playing I thought I would finish playing and get a Kombi van and travel around the world for a while,'' he said.

Herring finished at Leicester and was approached to be a skills coach with the club. So for the next two seasons - about 60 matches - he helped out with players and was on the sideline for some big games such as Heineken Cup finals and premiership games.

''I decided to give it a good crack and I loved it from the outset. Just wanted to get right into it.''

Herring (38) then took off to Japan and coached at NEC with Greg Cooper.

''I wanted to push the boundaries, experience whole different cultures and places and see where that leads me.''

After Japan he went to Canada and was involved in its national and sevens programme before coming back to New Zealand and Dunedin, where he coached at the Highlanders and Otago in 2016. It was then back to Japan for about 18 months, involved with the national side and the Sunwolves.

But with a fourth child on the way and not spending much time at home, Herring returned to New Zealand and got the coaching gig at Otago, a team he never actually played for, having played for Southland while studying at the University of Otago.

He admits he has picked up lots of tips and insights over his time.

''The big thing I have learned over the years is that everyone is different. We talk about culture but that can be a hard thing to define. It is a whole lot of things. Like getting involved. It is not like work, it is not a chore, it is easy to get out of bed in the morning. You are punctual, you have respect for each other. There is good chat among each other.

''It's pretty invisible stuff really. Not the sort of stuff where you can tick off a couple of boxes. But I know a rugby team is not an army. You've got to get the balance right. The thing about coaching rugby is everyone responds to different stimulus.''

As a coach, Herring is not a yeller and did not know how he could be defined.

In New Zealand, coaching was very much player-driven as players knew plenty about the game and coaches supported that.

When he went to Japan the first time he said the biggest lesson was what was working for him in England did not work in Japan as players and people were different.

Different strokes for different folks - that seems to be the catchcry.

As for ambitions for this season when he will assisted by Tom Donnelly, Ryan Martin and skills coach Kane Jury, the Auckland Grammar old boy said nothing changed.

''I always aim for the stars. I'm really looking forward to it. Getting the processes right, getting the game plan right and gelling as a team. I know we will be judged on results and that is fair enough. But you need to provide the team with the right support and players to grow.

''Coaching is just a really good place to grow. There are not many other professions where you are able to get feedback every day. And it is great preparation for fatherhood.''

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