IT was when a friend called him “selfish” that former Springboks star Andre Snyman realised he had to kick on at rugby coaching – but never imagined it would involve trying to inspire girls to play the sport in Doncaster.
The erstwhile Leeds Tykes centre, who won 38 Test caps for South Africa, retired in 2007 and went on to spend eight years coaching in America, working for Glendale Raptors in Colorado.
Snyman actually gained American citizenship but returned to the UK and took up a role as head rugby coach at Doncaster’s Hill House School earlier this year.
He is not the first professional rugby union player to follow such a career path post-retirement.
For instance, his former Tykes team-mates Rob Rawlinson and Dan Scarbrough work at Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate in York and Bradford Grammar School, respectively.
“It’s been absolutely great,” Snyman enthused to The Yorkshire Post.
“It’s a new challenge for me; I’ve never been in a real school environment.
“But coaching the kids has been a treat and really rewarding, seeing how they change; they can struggle to catch or pass and, then, three months later, you see the progress.
“Also, I’m working with eight-year-olds and 18-year-olds all in one day, so every day, every hour, you are doing some different and needing to find different ways to talk to them with different coaching and philosophies, too.”
He is not surprised so many former players end up in education given the wealth of rugby experience they possess.
“That’s how I got into this,” added Snyman, who scored a try when Tykes famously won the Powergen Cup at Twickenham in 2005.
“One of my friends said I was being selfish having all this rugby knowledge on the game and not sharing it with the youth.
“Growing the game at grassroots level is so important and, being part of a school set-up, also offers more security.
“As coach of a club, if you do badly, you need to find another job, whereas with a school there’s a bit more stability in the role and it’s enjoyable to work with kids and see them improve.”
Women’s rugby is growing rapidly and that is one of the areas where Snyman hopes to make his mark at the independent school in South Yorkshire.
It has not previously run a dedicated girls set-up but that is something the 45-year-old is looking to advance along with the school’s director of rugby, the former Halifax RL assistant coach and Leeds Rhinos academy coach Chris Rose.
“We are focusing on the girls programme next term and we’ll start in Year Six/Seven and go to Year Eight/Nine, so Under 10s/11s to Under 12/13s,” explained Synman.
“We’re not going to focus on the senior girls as they have their exams but, hopefully, we’ll get some traction with the younger ones.
“They will play rugby as well as netball and get to have a choice. They’ve done rugby in PE as it was introduced last year but they have only had a taste.
“If they can play netball, though, they can play rugby; it’s catching and passing a ball – only the ball is just a different shape.
“They’ve not really looked at tackling each other yet and we’ll be going into the finer details of the sport in January.
“Yet some of the girls are already saying now ‘when can we tackle, coach?’
“They want to get stuck in and we’re very excited by that.
“Hopefully, we can get to the point where we can hold training camps here and bring girls in from other schools to provide a base for them to train.”
Both Snyman’s children play in the junior ranks at Doncaster Knights, who will host an England Women’s game at Castle Park for a third time when Six Nations rivals Ireland visit in February.
The Championship club is doing its bit to promote women’s rugby and Hill House School hope to follow suit.
Snyman represented the school when he was invited to London last month to attend a victory celebration at The South African High Commission following the Springboks World Cup final win over England.
He had watched his fellow countrymen vanquish Eddie Jones’s side alongside pupils at a special event at the school.
“I got a bit of flak leading up to it (the final),” recalled Snyman, who starred for Tykes from 2003 to 2006.
“A lot of people were giving me and my family a lot of banter so it was really nice to turn around and say ‘I told you so!’
“South Africa played really well. I thought England would have given them more of a show but I think they played their final the week before against the All Blacks.
“I was certainly happy with the result.”