Interview with Kevin Putt

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Interview with Kevin Putt

by PaulHP on Sat Apr 29, 2006 9:46 am

Kevin Barry Putt

Kevin Putt needs very little introduction, the ex- Otago, Wiakato, Terenure, Natal, London Irish & Leinster scrum-half, the ex- coach of Terenure and Natal Sharks, and now the Premiership Head Coach at Counties-Manukau, took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions.


When/where did you start to play rugby? 4years of age in town of birth, Cambridge NZ.

Have you always played scrum half? Fairly much…two seasons of variation only since 4 years of age – 1st V for a year in my first XV at Cambridge High School and a few games at 10 outside of Niall Hogan at Terenure College in Dublin.


What brought you to London Irish? – Medical treatment necessary for my daughter meant we had to leave South Africa, finished 1998 Super 12 and Currie Cup and linked immediately with London Irish – connections were I had Irish connections (my wife is a good Dublin lass – Terenure born and bred) and I had an Irish passport (post nuptial) and London Irish assistant coach Andy Keast had been coaching at the Sharks and had made a good impression on me.

What was the training like? I love training in general – a bit of a fitness freak, but that was very quickly dampened by Dick Best’s abortional attempt at crippling the assets of the company…ie the players. Having said that, he had a good eye for talent as there were some good boys there…I do not think he got the ‘best’ out of everyone though.

Who was your most difficult opponent and why? Austin Pichot – Bristol, abrasive and very talented. Had some great battles and ended up reasonable friends.

What was Sunbury like in your time playing there? Awesome, loved the close crowd atmosphere and family ‘fair’ vibe, Guinness was great as were the people.

How different was playing at the Stoop? Step up in professionalism in that the field was better as were facilities, but never felt like it was ‘our’ field/grounds.

Which ground did you prefer? Sunbury…old school!

What is your most memorable game and why? Beating Leicester – top of the league, in the Cup game at the Stoop to knock them out and move into semis.

Where was your favourite away ground? Northampton

Who do you consider was the best player you played with for London Irish and why? Jarrod Cunningham – alround talent and as inspirational then as he is today with his health burden.

Who where the characters at Sunbury in your time playing? Kieran Dawson and Bish were trouble, but good trouble. The singing and musical ability of Kevin Spicer. The comedy routine of Robert Todd, the English Tele-tubbie in Rod Hardwick, the Irish mafia of the Clancy Brothers and the a manager out of the Faulty Towers stable in Kieran McCarthy.

Do you still keep in contact with any of your old team mates? Paths cross infrequently, and moving into coaching in the southern hemisphere has made it difficult. When we do catch up it is always good times that are remembered…ohhh, and Dick Best always come into the chat.

Dick Best is renowned as a hard task master in your opinion is that true? A dictatorial coach rather than empowerment based…certainly has its place, but when you have talented players it is a little sad to inhibit play with fear of failure and threats, reinforcing negatives rather than building the younger players up. Had a sick sense of humour that I am sad to say I enjoyed.

Do you miss playing for London Irish? The game has moved on a lot…I thoroughly enjoyed my time, but as a Coach now I see that we were very amateur in our overall approach – but bloody good fun!!!!

Do you have any stories from your LI days? None to share I am sorry…the police may still have some of the cases open.

You played Super 12 rugby before joining Irish, how different was the standard of rugby compared to the Premiership? Different competition rather than the rugby. The Super 12 was 11 games and semis/final. We could plan, get one game rest maybe but in general see the competition through and build as you go. The premiership is a Marathon that requires focus for 6 months – impossible, so standards change based on time of the year and personal/team motivation. The Super 12 was played in pre-season – great weather promoting positive play and expansive play. The Premiership was focused on grinding out victories in generally shocking conditions and 5 great games in a row did not reinforce a successful season – that’s crazy.

How easy was it to settle into English rugby? Thankfully there were so many Kiwi’s, South Africans and Irish around that it could have been anywhere in the world. Very easy with the Irish ethos of making all feel welcome too.

Did Austin Healey ever personally apologise to you for that stamp? Not a chance…


What other clubs have you played for? Provinces: Otago (at University 84-86), Waikato (went home to be school teacher 87-90) Terenure (travel 90-91) Natal/Sharks (92-98) LI (98-00) Terenure and Leinster (00-02)

Did you win any honours (inter-provincial/county/Barbarians/Maoris/Trialists etc.)? NZ University captain, NZ 7’s 1987/89, All Black trials 89/92, SA Barbarians, Sringboks 94/96, SA 7’s 95

When did you stop playing rugby? Terenure vs Shannon AIL 2002

Do you still watch rugby? (I know silly question) Passionately

When was the last time you attended a London Irish match? Since the last game I played for them…working in the industry does not give much free time.

Which modern day player would you most liked to play with? Daniel Carter

Has rugby changed much since you stopped playing? The physicality especially, the rules have made for many more contests and with it potential contact situations. The defence and systems relating to it have matured to change the face of the game…some may think as a spectacle for the worse.

Do you feel that today’s rugby players play too much rugby? Based on the points above, yes…but as a coach we try and balance that with squad depth.

Are there any rules that you would like to see changed? The interference allowed on halfbacks is a personal annoyance – it slows the game and promote negative tactics…I would like to see 9’s able to pass relatively unimpeded (if they are in position to do so) and initiate attacks as they have been able to historically in the game.

What was your profession before becoming a professional rugby player? School Teacher – Secondary.

After leaving London Irish you moved to Terenure College as a player coach, how easy was it moving into coaching? At that level fine…always a hard one to balance talking the talk and walking the walk though.

Had Terenure changed much since you played for them 10 years earlier? Not in terms of the bar and the bar flies…great place – loved it.

What was the standard of rugby like in the A.I.L.? Not comparable to Provincial.

How did you end up at Terenure twice? Family connection and one would hope that the work I did the first time was further motivation to get me back!

You made a surprised return to first class rugby playing for Leinster at the age of 35, how did this come about? Matt Williams contacted me on the basis of my club form and as always I love a challenge.


How was playing with the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Shane Horgan, Denis Hickie etc? Very educational – incredible natural talents. Was amazed at how they were just making the mental transition to professionalism at that stage…drink culture was still very big, but that’s Ireland.

You played for Otago & Wiakato, which was the better side? Waikato was a great side…one season I scored 15 tries behind the pack – only to be beaten by John Mitchell at Number 8 with 18…tells you a little about how strong the big boys were up front. Names in the forwards like Richard Loe, Warren Gatland, Graham Purvis, Steve Gordon, Buck Anderson, John Mitchell and Richard Jerram (all All Blacks) made for a great platform.

Who was your hardest opponent? Bruce Deans (did a bit of time in Ireland too – Old Cresent and Old Belvedere) was always a hard one…when playing in Super rugby Justin Marshall was always a great challenge.

What is your favourite New Zealand ground? Eden Park

You captained the winning New Zealand side in the 1989 Hong Kong Seven's, what are your memories of that tournament? Not captain…quiet enough tournament, sneaked through in last seconds against Fiji in semi when Zinzan took a drop out and landed in the hands of Dallas Seymour to run the length score and win. Final was a dream…I scored two tries, and even the great Campese was of little value to the Aussies as we took the title.

You where an All Black Trialist, how disappointed were you in not to get a cap? Life dreams are disappointing when they do not come to fruition, but I have always lived by the motto of not regretting things…by missing the AB’s it motivated me to use rugby as a vehicle to travel, I met my wife and made the Springboks, travelled the world, played for London Irish…the story is still ongoing…

You played 138 games for Natal, what took you to South Africa? Invitation firstly to play club rugby in between Terenure contracts, feel in love with the place when I started working in the Townships, developing sport and in particular rugby. Really thought I could make a difference and started up a Development Trust to promote sport and get Physical Education started in several schools…all about upliftment.

Who was the best player you played with? Henry Honiball, great man – great player – great mate.

Who was your hardest opponent? Joost Van der Westhuizen

How hard was it playing away games in Australia and New Zealand? Loved it…a born tourist! Great chance to see my family in NZ every year!

Did it take long to get use to the different time zones and get ready for playing? It was difficult, definitely a disadvantage for the SA teams, but we got better at it as we got more experienced and more professional in our approach.

You where on the bench for South Africa on a number of occasions, how did it feel to be picked for the Springboks? Proud – acknowledgement of rugby ability, but the heart always knew what type of blood was flowing through the body.

How did you qualify to play for South Africa? Two year residency back then.

How many A caps to you win? I think I played about 10 games for the touring Springboks and one match against Argentina in SA, but no tests after sitting on the bench behind Joost for 8 internationals. The ‘mentality’ changed soon after and substitutes became more common during games…frustrating!

You were given the dreaded vote of confidence and within one week sacked. How frustrating was this? Great learning experience for rugby and life.

Do you think you could have turned the Sharks season around if you had been given the time? As stated above…that is conjecture…too much regretting, what it has opened up is an incredible opportunity to get involved in the NZ NPC, the premier provincial competition in the world…the information sharing is incredible here and I have already been exposed to more upskilling in 6 months than I was coaching for nearly 4 years in SA…things happen for a reason, take the positives out of it and move on!

Looking back is there anything you would have done differently? I think as an analytical person there would always be things you could do better, but I think also many of the things we were doing are paying dividends now.

You are now the Premiership Head Coach at Counties-Manukau, what are your ambitions for the province? We have heaps of natural, raw, talent here. Culturally we are a very diverse community. We were newly promoted last year. We have a longer term plan of competing to win the NPC in the 5 year period, short term though it will be about establishing a winning culture and trying to retain our players…who historically have been pilfered by the big provinces here. If we can build the loyalty and team/player experience then we have every opportunity of competing at the top level.

Do you have a player we should keep an eye out for?
We have a few exciting talents coming through…Niva Tau’auso (Chief’s centre) should be pushing for an All Black jersey this year with Tana Umaga retiring.
Niva Tau’auso you heard it hear first!

Will you win the NPC? See above about long term plans.

What tip would you give to a youngster who want's to be a rugby player? Focus on your career outside of rugby and do not put all those eggs in one basket…I have seen a few lads devastated that they do not make the top grade with no back up plan…that is irresponsible, plan for all eventualities. There is no substitute for hard work.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Please tell me…life is a journey, I am enjoying the ride at present…I would like to look at some business interests and aim looking forward as the kids grow up to watch them mature…with sport of course!


Thanks Kevin
Last edited by PaulHP on Sun Mar 09, 2008 10:17 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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by gabriel on Sat Apr 29, 2006 12:43 pm

Another lovely interview.

I always wanted to know how come he ended up with the middle name 'Barry'. He must have had some family Irish connection.

I thought that Healey said he had apologised. Not that you could believe him of course.
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by dom_pedro on Sat Apr 29, 2006 7:49 pm

Fantastic interview Paul.

Does this mean Healey might get a few more votes in the GQs?
This cruel country has driven me down, teased me and lied.
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My dreams have withered and died.
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by Mrs Chicken on Sun Apr 30, 2006 1:04 pm

Absolute class, Paul.

Interesting comments about Dick Best there. It wouldn't have worked with me as negative reinforcement knocks my stuffing right out. I do recall Conor saying once, when asked about Mr Best, that as a player he responded positively to the kind of approach Best had. But I can quite see how it could have left some players below their best. As Putt says, fear of failure can make you fearful even of trying. Clearly Conor is made of sterner stuff than most.
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by PaulHP on Sun Apr 30, 2006 10:47 pm


Kevin has answered your question:

My great grandmother, not close enough to allow me to play for Ireland…which is ironic as Gatland contacted me to do so in the 5 Nations while I played at London Irish…I did not qualify so could not be considered.

My Dad was very ‘Irish conscious’ and sang Kevin Barry (the Rebel song) as his party piece. I went through all the record stores while living in Ireland and got words to the song and a CD version of the same…which helps to remember my Dad.


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by Brian W on Mon May 01, 2006 12:16 am

What a great interview series you're building up. Fantastic stuff. It's great to see players so candid.
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by AlecW on Tue May 02, 2006 7:13 am

Very, very good...!

Thanks Paul
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