Jonathan Griffin played for London Irish in the mid-nineties, he is now the Head Coach and Director of Coaching of Stanford University Rugby. He has also served as the Northern California League Commissioner, Head Coach of the PCRFU Collegiate Grizzly side, Head Coach of the Grizzly Men’s Senior side and a member of the USA Rugby Elite Coaching Group. He was also selected to attend the Churchill Cup Eagles Camp in the United Kingdom in May this year. Griff kindly answered my questions:
What is your date of birth/place of birth?
4th Oct 1972, Dublin, Ireland
When/where did you start to play rugby?
Started when I moved into Belvedere College in the ‘Rudiments’ Year group in the Junior school aged 10
Did you start out as a flyhalf?
Yes, I started at Flyhalf then moved to fullback for the 3 years I played on the Schools Senior Cup team, stayed at fullback throughout my time at London Irish then moved back to flyhalf afterwards
When did join London Irish and how many games did you play?
Joined the summer of 1994. Started 7 x 1st XV games, and mixed it up with the 2nd XV and the then newly installed Development XV under John McFarland. I scored over 300 pts for the Development XV under John McFarland in 1996/97
How many points did you score in your London Irish days?
1 x try for the 1st XV and over 300 pts for the Development XV 1996/97
What brought you to London Irish?
The challenge of becoming the best rugby player I could become. I wanted to test myself having spent some time immediately prior competing internationally as an athlete
Who did you room with on away matches?
I never played a game for any team where we had to stay over night
Who was your most difficult opponent and why?
Bath RFC. Played them 3 times for the 2nd XV and never lost! They always played a wide exciting brand of rugby, always had such strength in depth that their 2nd XV were full of internationals. The games were very physical but immensely enjoyable
What was Sunbury like in your time playing there?
Awesome!!! A small tight community where everyone knew everyone. Saturdays were great fun because everyone knew everyone and the integration of all levels was superb. The bars afterwards were the best part, especially the upper bar. The fact that everyone stayed till well after the last training left and often struggled to get home says a lot about the fact no one ever wanted to leave! Training on those two back fields and over by the school was not pleasant however. I can’t remember the number of nights I spent on the floor of the ‘house’ recovering from the night before
What was your favourite away ground?
Wasps, the post match food was the best I’ve ever had
What was your most memorable game for Irish and why?
1st XV v London Welsh away at Welsh because I scored my one and only 1st XV try on an 8-9-15 move from a centre spot scrum. I also remember my first ever game for London Irish was for the 2nd XV away to Scottish and I put Justin Bishop away for his first senior score, and played with Justin Fitzpatrick too
Who do you consider was the best player you played with for London Irish and why?
Rob Henderson, powerful, quick, good feet, great hands, and a truly great Noel Gallagher from Oasis imitator. A really nice bloke too
Who were the characters at London Irish in your time playing?
Rob Henderson, because he is Rob Henderson. Garry Halpin for his pre-training exploits in the ‘house’. Shane O Sullivan for urinating on everyone in the showers after games. Owen Cobbe for his sarcasm
Do you still keep in contact with any of your old team mates?
Yes, a small group of us a in constant contact
Who was the coach?
I always say that Clive Woodward joined from Henley when he heard I was joining! John McFarland was there too and started the Development XV in my 2nd year there. That was the most enjoyable rugby I’ve every played, lost one game (22-21) all season but thrashed teams regularly by 60+ points
What was the training like?
Under Clive, bizarre; Under McFarland, technically brilliant
Do you miss playing for Irish?
Yes, but I am a realist, I was not good enough to go professional. I’d love to go back as a coach, I’m good enough to do that!!
When was the last time you attended a London Irish match?
Their promotion game to get from the old DII into the old DI, held at Sunbury. I’ve never been to a game at Reading. Tony Redmond is one of my best friends and he was still playing before he emigrated to the USA
Do you have any favourite stories from your Irish days?
Too many, and none you’d be able to print legally. However I do remember Rob Henderson’s renditions of Wonderwall in the upper bar most Saturday evenings; playing Catch on the cricket slip Clive introduced and nearly killing Corky with a ball he failed to catch, which scraped his head; watching Birdy and Halpin race over 40m and Birdy getting his ass kicked. Great fun!
What are your lasting memories of London Irish?
Making great friends, playing awesome rugby and having great fun doing both
The professional London Irish team is no longer a team for Irish/Irish descent players, what are your feelings about this?
It’s a professional environment, where winning the number one objective, therefore the bets players must be taken in. It is good to see that a element of heritage is kept, but for me the main point here is the re-establishemnt of the Amateur club which has become a string focus for the Irish community
What other clubs have you played for?
Player – coach at Romford & Gidea Park for 1yr; Norwich RFC for 3 yrs; Eastern Counties Rep XV for 3yrs; Blackheath RFC for 3 yrs; Irish Students Rugby League III; I never went fully professional only semi-professional, for two reasons, A. I didn’t want to as it was clear no one really know how to be a professional rugby player/coach/administrator and that has only been addressed within the last 5 yrs, B. if I did I would have been a full time bench warmer
Did you win any honours (Barbarians/Trial/County/Inter-provincial etc)?
England Students Trial, played for South East England Students; Played for Eastern Counties in the County Championship; Played for Ireland Students Rugby league XIII
Who was your biggest influence on your rugby playing career?
Fr Michael Shiel, Belvedere College Head Coach – importance of organization and leadership skills; Clive Woodward – ability to think outside the box and not confirm just because it was done that one before; Josh Sutcliffe my Australian full time assistant coach – what to teach in terms of sound basis skills for each position, taken from his 4 yrs as an Australian RFU Rugby RDO.
Do you feel that today’s rugby players play too much rugby?
Yes, unquestionably. At the very least the Premiership needs to be divided in half with two conferences. Less rugby increases the players skills and abilities and produces a product the public find interesting and exciting to watch. In England specifically, there are too many average players being paid too much money to play ‘professional’ rugby, diluting the perception of what good professional rugby should be
Do you still play rugby?
No, full time coach
You are currently the Head Coach of Stanford Rugby Club in California, how did you end up there?
I decided to change my career from my work in the City of London to work with elite athletes, and attended Loughborough uni to complete my Masters in Exercise Physiology. I began coaching the Loughborough Womens XV and the following year went full time under Alan Buzza, DoR. They unfortunately did not have any money in the budget so I needed a job and serendipity played its part. I was speaking to my very close friend Tony Redmond (Played hooker for London Irish for 3 seasons as a professional) and he was doing some part time coaching at Stanford. He let me know they were looking for a coach who had coached men and women. I had just won the BUSA Championships with Loughborough’s Women’s XV team as well being the assistant coach for the men’s club. So I applied for the position and got it!
2005 Stanford National Collegiate Championship Winners
Do you have a player we should keep an eye out for?
Ronnie Tisdale. He entered Stanford last September as an All Star High School Running back. He began playing and within 10 weeks of starting he was picked up by the USA 7’s Squad. He also played two games for the US U19 but did not make the cut for the U19 Worlds due to school requirements, but is included in their U20 World Cup Training Squad this season coming. He is currently attending Stanford on two academic scholarships, the Ron Brown Scholarship and Gates Scholarship
How good is the standard of rugby in the USA?
Equivalent to DII, bottom DI level, but getting better. There is a huge amount of rugby being played all across the USA, which people are not aware of, however the vast majority of it is played to a very poor standard. Its a huge college sport which is currently dragging itself out of the drunk-puke-up-on-everyone-good-time-lads-type stereotype. Its attracting more and more ‘athletes’. We just need to develop the game in High Schools so they know the game arriving at college and not having to learn when they arrive. USA Rugby are also doing a huge amount of work in tandem with the RFU, via the Alliance Program, on developing good coaches which is beginning to see dividend. It’s an exciting place to be currently