Billy Millard joined Connacht Rugby as backs coach last season with an impressive rugby CV to date, one position that stands out the most is his role as Australian Sevens coach with top players like Ashley Cooper, Drew Mitchell, James O’Connor and Digby Ioane all developing under his expertise. It’s food for thought that we have a coach of this expertise in the Irish set up and the influence he can have on the game.
Mike: The fundamental rules in Sevens Rugby are the same as the traditional game, apart from the obvious difference e.g. number of players and duration of the game what are the key differences when playing Sevens rugby?
BM: The running capacity required in 7’s is huge, as a result fatigue sets in early, this tests your core skills and in 7’s you need to perform every core skill, one on one defence, breakdown, catch and pass, offloading etc. If you can’t perform your core skills there’s nowhere to hide whereas in 15’s you can hide a deficiency a little bit.
Mike: What was the highlight in your career as Seven’s coach with Australia?
BM: Definitely bringing young talent through. Guys like James O’Connor, Drew Mitchell, Adam Ashley Cooper, Brock James and many other current Super15 players. A close second would be getting to travel the world and competing in great stadiums in places such as South Africa, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Wellington, London & Paris.
Mike: When developing a young player do you feel Seven’s Rugby can improve certain skills in the traditional fifteen player game?
BM: For backs and back-row players it’s a great developing tool. As mentioned you need to individually ramp up your core skills. As a coach you also get to see if a player has the ability to push through fatigue.
Mike: Has your experience coaching Seven’s been taking into the fifteen player’s game when coaching to add an extra layer to attacking the ball?
BM: I think it has, I expect high standards especially in a players core skills and their ability to work hard under fatigue. I also like to work on backs having the ability to win one on one contests. 15’s is a much more direct game with less space so you need to be careful about your approach.
Mike: When at a weekend stage of the World Sevens Series what excites you the most?
BM: It’s great being in different countries and playing in front of big atmospheres. Dubai, Hong Kong and Wellington are amazing places and watching the young players being tested under that kind of pressure is very exciting.
Mike: Who do you feel will take this year’s World Sevens Series Title?
BM: I think New Zealand will again take the series, Fiji have looked better at times this year but New Zealand are just so consistent it’s hard to see them not winning it.
Mike: Do you see a future for Sevens Rugby at elite in Ireland?
BM: I think Irish Rugby is missing a trick not competing in the IRB 7’s Series. Many countries now use the 7’s perfectly to fast-track players through to regional teams. It’s not as hard or complicated as it appears, I think it’s easy to say “it’s too hard”. Many of our young players at Connacht would have been significantly more developed in so many ways if they had played on the 7’s circuit for a year or two. I have seen it work first hand in Australia and Wales and other countries have now put in place systems that work and with the 7’s code now in the Olympics I think that Ireland should be involved.
Mike: If you could sum up Sevens Rugby in 3 words what would they be?
BM: Challenging, Exhausting & Exciting