Thu, Nov 18, 2021 5:12 AM

College rugby coach recognised for passion

Nelson College 1st XV coach Jono Phillips has been nominated for Coach of the Year at the Nelson Sports Awards. Photo: Jonty Dine

Jonty Dine

A self-confessed rugby nerd, Jono Philips instills his passion for the game in his players.

Jono has a prodigious eye for talent, having overseen superstars of the game - from two-time world player of the year Beauden Barrett to current All Black skipper, Sam Whitelock.

As for the next crop of talent, Jono has enjoyed stellar success during his first three years at Nelson College.

He has led the 1st XV to two South Island championships, two Crusaders Schools titles and three consecutive quadrangular victories in one of the most fruitful periods in the school’s 165-year history.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Jono is already making plans for the 2022 season.

Jono’s success has seen him nominated for the 2021 Nelson Sports Awards Coach of the Year.

With such an impressive resume it’s difficult for Jono to pinpoint highlights, but the school’s win at the South Island secondary school final was a standout.

“That first 25 minutes against Otago Boys High School, to see a group of 17-18-year-olds play with the accuracy, composure, and intensity that they did, was phenomenal.”

Despite his achievements, Jono is quick to deflect praise to his assistants Mike Fraser and Marty O'Cain, as well as all the local sponsors that support the team.

Jono’s commitment to his role is unwavering, the 70 minutes on the field the result of hours of preparation.

Sundays are spent pouring through video footage, fastidiously planning and analysing.

“I try to work two games ahead.”

Jono says it’s incredibly satisfying to see his former players flourishing as professionals.

“To see Luca (Inch) and Anton (Segner) starting for the Mako and doing so well is fantastic.”

He also cites 2021 captain Ollie Inch, whom he says has grown exponentially in his 50 games for the school.

“Also, the growth of players like Mason Lund and Wil Thornalley, they live in my office watching videos, and developing game plans.”

Jono also runs a rugby class at the school which teaches boys everything from nutrition to psychology.

“I try to make it as close to a professional environment as possible.”

Jono’s coaching journey began in 1995 while playing professional cricket in Scotland after a knee reconstruction ended his rugby career.

“Being a Kiwi, I was quickly asked to coach the local rugby side.”

As the game turned professional the following year, Jono was given the role of Rugby Development Officer for Scotland Rugby and his career took off.

Jono was mentored by two legends in British and Irish Lions coaches Sir Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer.

“They had such a high work ethic and were students of the game.”

His rapid rise through the national ranks saw his coaching the national side at the 1996 U19 World Cup.

He went on to coach a multitude of teams, including Scotland U21 until 2004 when he returned to his homeland.

Jono joined the Hurricanes as high-performance manager and assistant coach and was heavily involved in the school’s programme which produced a number of All Blacks still playing today.

“I have a passion for helping young players realise their dreams.”

After a stint in Taranaki, Jono made his most recent move to Nelson in 2016 to be with his wife.

He took a brief detour from rugby into the business world where he also found great success, though it wasn’t long until he was made his rugby return.

Jono put his hand up as an advisor at Waimea Old Boys before a beer with Peter Grigg and Gary O’Shea brought about his next chapter.

He says there are several aspects to his coaching philosophy.

Jono wants his players to have a sound technical and tactical understanding of situations and an ability to make decisions.

“I want them to have the tools to deal with situations. It’s not about coaching form the sidelines but empowering them to express themselves.”

Ultimately, Jono looks to create not only quality rugby players, but quality people off the field too.

The Nelson Sports Awards will be announced via livestream on December 3.