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My Life in Rugby: Mark Bakewell – former Eastern Suburbs player and Bath coach

Mark BakewellWith more than 400 games as a player (prop and back row) and coach, Eastern Suburbs in Sydney is definitely my club. It’s where I met the greatest influence in my career, Greg Smith, and I began my coaching. However, Bath will forever have a place in my heart too. Being the forwards coach there from 2006-09 was my favourite job.

I’d been proposed as Bath head coach by prominent senior players; however I believed turning the pack, one of the most technically gifted around, into a dynamic unit that produced points was the priority, so I didn’t stand for the position.

In our second year (2007-2008) under Steve Meehan, we clicked. I believe we’d have won the Premiership had we secured a home-semi-final. Unfortunately premature celebrations after beating Saracens by 50 points led to a narrow loss at Gloucester on the final weekend. Finishing third meant an unsuccessful trip to Wasps. We won the European Challenge Cup that year but the Premiership was the one that got away.

A bigger loss, however, was allowing Steve Borthwick to leave the club. He was its cultural heart-beat. His attention to detail was phenomenal and that really challenged me as a coach. It has been brilliant to rekindle that friendship in Japan, where I currently coach Suntory Sungoliath.

In my third and final year at Bath we played good rugby, making the H-Cup quarters and the semis of the Premiership with the best set-piece in English rugby’s top flight. However a lot was going on off the field with the Matt Stevens issue and the end-of-season fracas in London. It left a marked impression on me and I’m actually very proud of how I handled that season.

The best thing from my time at Bath is the respect and friendship I still have with David Flatman, David Barnes, Danny Grewcock, Lee Mears and Gareth Delve and more – a great group of men.

I coached Easts from 1995-2001, while winning NSW Coach of the Year in 2000 was the catalyst to get me to France as head coach of Brive. For two years I worked harder than ever before. After achieving greater than 75% success rate from 60 games in two seasons and taking Brive to the top division, I left following a contract dispute.

I was lucky to meet Steve Hansen and Mike Cron, and I did some analysis for Steve when he was Wales head coach. Both men have had such a positive influence on my career and they remind me why I’m so proud of my Kiwi heritage.

Beziers was next stop where the volatility of French rugby was prominent. Head coach Jean-Pierre Élissalde got the sack in true French style, leaving me in charge for the final four months of my two-year tenure.

Coming to England could have come a year earlier, but a last-minute work-permit issue stopped the opportunity to leave Beziers for London Irish to work with Brian Smith again. Thankfully Eddie Jones asked me to do some coaching at Suntory and some set-piece technical analysis for his Wallabies side for their tour to Europe. This was one of three times I have been involved with the Wallabies – the others were under Greg Smith in ‘96 who wanted to ‘toughen up’ his team, and in 2009 to help Robbie Deans with lineout preparation for England.

After Bath, I spent 18 months with the Melbourne Rebels. My family never settled so after 11 years away we headed home to Sydney and back to Easts.  I then worked with Tonga 2012-13 and we enjoyed a notable success against Scotland in Aberdeen. I also had the privilege of coaching the Barbarians with Steve Hansen. I’m currently enjoying success at Suntory and coaching with two great men in Andy Friend and Pete Hewat.

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