Q&A: Paul Wellens’ learning and skills for Saints coaching job

PAUL Wellens was unveiled as the new Saints head coach last week.

We caught up with him to ask how he’s equipped himself to take on this role with his hometown club and what excites him in the role.

We’ve split it into two parts – here’s part 1, with part 2 tomorrow.

MC: It’s been seven years since you stopped playing. Is the fact that we’re talking about your record as an assistant coach, rather than 495 games in the red vee, a good sign for a new head coach?

PT: I understand that with the number of years I’ve played here, it’s natural that people want to talk about those experiences.

What we are also aware of is that I want to forge my own journey as a coach and I would much rather talk about Jonny Lomax, Mark Percival and Tommy Makinson than what I did maybe be seven, eight, nine, 10 years old.

It’s something I understand but I’m Paul Wellens the coach now, not Paul Wellens the player.

MC: Can you explain to us how you did your training as a coach? And was that always the end goal?

PT: I went there with a ‘don’t be in a rush’ mindset. What I wanted to do was gain different experiences along the way. It started working with Derek Traynor in the youth system and getting used to just coaching and spending hours on the training ground, delivering and getting used to what it’s all about.

Then, of course, I rose through the ranks in the reserves, then in the first team alongside Justin Holbrook and Kristian.

Throughout these experiments you keep adding a few layers to the onion so to speak.

Along with that I did a few things from an educational point of view – one of them was a UK Sports Aspire program, going through that and working with different coaches in different sports and how they do the things. I learned a lot from that.

There was also my involvement with England working with Steve McNamara, Wayne Bennett and Shaun Wane.

All these experiences have given me different ideas and ways of doing things.

What I was aware of was to arm myself with as many tools as possible, so if and when that opportunity presented itself, I would be in the right position to seize it.

Paul Wellen.  Photo: Bernard PlattChristian Woolf

MC: In terms of the job itself – excluding the tactical and game aspects – how important are people management skills in this role and are these skills that come naturally or something that had to be learned?

PT: Some of them are natural. When I was captain of the club, I had to do a bit, but not quite to the level that I saw Kristian and Justin do.

I understand that becomes more important when you step into this role, but I’d like to think of myself as a social person and a people person. I think I’m an approachable person and I hope the players will see that in me too.

I’m not against having open and honest conversations which I believe are vitally important in helping a team succeed.

MC: Having played and trained under many coaches, do you have to be like a magpie taking the best parts and rejecting the worst parts?

PT: There is a bit of everything and you learn a lot from the experiences you go through. I’ve worked with so many great coaches that it would be stupid not to take things from them.

Paul Wellen.  Photo: Bernard PlattPaul Wellen

But at the same time, I need to be myself and bring my own ideas. This is what I intend to do in the future.

When I look at this team right now, it’s pretty clear that there’s a lot going right with them, so it’s not about tearing everything down and starting from scratch.

If there are a few areas where we will look to make improvements, we will find them.

MC: You mentioned the Saints attack – you’ll have something to work on, especially once the injured are back to full fitness?

PT: I’ve had a lot of attacks this year and we’ve had a lot of disruption, it didn’t help us at certain times of the year. We scored a lot of points and some great tries. I don’t see our offense as a big problem, but we’re just looking for some adjustments and areas where we can improve.

Paul Wellen.  Photo: Bernard PlattLewis Dodd

Losing Lewis Dodd when we did had an impact because we were playing fantastic rugby at the time. The backbone of our team changed from week to week and that made things really difficult.

I thought the way Jonny and Jack in particular stepped into those roles and managed the team helped us keep going and achieve the success we need. We will again face disruptions and difficult times – if we can find a few improvements that will definitely help us where we need to be.

The group showed real resilience – and what Kristian impressed on the team was the belief that you can miss players, but that’s no excuse for not performing. It is something that we must pursue.

It’s been two years on the run – after losing Théo Fages in 2021 – that we lost our number 7 and we managed. It gives me a lot of confidence in this role that we have a group of players who can deal with adversity.