On the eve of the Six Nations, Oakham School is taking a look back at its Old Oakhamian magazine interview with legendary rugby coach Ian Smith.
In the feature, Ian talks about the return of rugby fixtures to Doncaster Close following Covid-19 restrictions and his memories of other rugby Lions and Tigers he has coached to glory.
Getting Back on the Pitch
Since Ian first started at Oakham School back in 1995, he’s never seen anything impact rugby as much as Covid-19 has. With rugby coming to a halt during the highest peaks of the virus, it’s been a very challenging time for the sport. “I was probably more excited for the new rugby season this year than I’ve ever been in my whole career,” Ian says. “Stepping out onto the pitch as a team for the first time since the pandemic has been a very emotional time for us all.”
The biggest priority for the School’s rugby coaches has been getting training back up and running, settling in the new students and preparing them for their fixtures. Ian says, “Training is vital in all aspects of life – the way we play the game is the way we live our lives – so to have this missing for the past 17 months or so was incredibly challenging for all of us.”
He continues, “Rugby is much more than a game – it’s a love of something extra special in our lives. A lot of our players would say that one of their most special memories from School is running out onto Doncaster Close for the Oakham 1st XV game and moments like this really do stay with people for many years to come.”
Following his tour with the British and Irish Lions in South Africa, Hamish recently revisited the campus to donate two of his Lions jerseys as a thank you for the School’s role in his career.
The first shirt was dedicated to Ian, who taught Hamish during his time at Oakham School. Before Hamish left to play for the Lions, he had dedicated his jersey to Ian in an emotional video where he thanked him for his support.
The second shirt was presented to Headmaster, Henry Price, and will now be displayed in the School for parents, guardians and visitors to see.
Ian says: “Talking to Hamish about the Lions tour was very emotional for us both after all of the hard work that he’s put in. I kept in touch with him throughout the tour to see how he was getting on and it was fantastic to have that connection with him.”
“Whenever I watch anyone play that I’ve had the pleasure of coaching, I’m always delighted to see their success, but I do watch with a critical eye.”
“To be a Lions player is the pinnacle of every rugby player’s dream and to see Hamish achieve this and go on the recent tour was just fantastic. For Hamish to put on a Lion’s shirt and make a brilliant contribution to the team made me personally very proud.”
Hamish is the third Old Oakhamian that Ian has coached, who has gone on to play for the British and Irish Lions, following in the footsteps of Lewis Moody in 2005 and Tom Croft in 2009 and 2013.
It’s not just future Lions that Ian has trained. For over a quarter of a century, Ian ‘Dosser’ Smith’s coaching influence has helped inspire many Oakham School pupils to go on to play professional rugby – none more so than at his former club: Leicester Tigers.
Oakham School’s connection with Leicester Tigers stretches back to the late 19th century with an impressive number of Old Oakhamian students having gone on to play for one of the Tigers squads. Following a playing and coaching career spent with Leicester Tigers, Ian’s presence at Oakham has only strengthened that connection.
During Ian’s time at Oakham School, he has seen nearly 60 Oakhamians go on to play for one of the Tigers squads, 11 of whom have played for the 1st XV, as well as many who have joined other professional clubs. Drawing on his extensive network of contacts, Ian has also been instrumental in orchestrating the visits of many other former players he has mentored who have come to the School to offer advice and coaching sessions to nurture the next generation of talent at Oakham.
Ian says: “We really enjoy having former players come and coach our current teams – there’s a real mutual benefit to this and the players love coming back to where their careers began.”
“Many Old Oakhamians have said that when they step back onto the 1st XV team pitch, the hairs on the back of their neck stand up. It’s very gratifying when former students want to come back to Oakham and it always makes the School proud to hear that so many players have such fond memories of their time on the pitch.”