Leck helping nurture today’s international talent
It’s only been seven years since Chris Leck last played professional rugby, yet his transition into becoming a successful Strength and Conditioning Coach has allowed him to stay close to the game he loves and witness first-hand the rate at which the game has evolved.
A scrum-half with Sale Sharks and then Edinburgh, for whom he featured on 29 occasions, Leck moved into the coaching world with Scotland age grade and regional work, before upping sticks and moving to France to live and work with Stade Niçois as part of Scottish Rugby’s performance partnership in the summer of 2019.
The Manchester native was just about settled into his new role in the South of France, as Strength and Conditioning Coach, when the effects of Covid-19 came about, prompting a move back home and uncertainty as to where his next steps would take him.
A call from the Scotland national coaching team – through Stuart Yule [Head Strength and Conditioning Coach] presented an opportunity for Leck to join up with the national side ahead of last year’s Autumn Nations Cup, and the 34-year-old has continued to work with Gregor Townsend’s staff during the 2021 Guinness Six Nations.
In an interview in the latest edition of Scottish Rugby's The Front Row magazine, Chris Leck explains how his current post came about.
He said: “This period has been really tough, as it has been for everyone. I’d gone out to Stade Niçois in 2019 with full support and backing from Scottish Rugby to start to implement some structures in place at the club and it was going to be a slow process to change the culture, which is very much a case of convincing players to buy into an idea.
“It was something that was to take a bit of time; things like nutrition, training habits, the intensity of training, so little changes and putting things in place – that was the first six months or so.
“We went on a massive run post-Christmas  which took us up to I think second [in Féderale 1] and we were in a really good place until Covid hit. From then unfortunately, we got the nod to come back home, my wife and I, having moved our life out there – we were all in.
“She’s successful in the travel world so we were passing strangers for quite a lot of it – she would fly out on a Thursday and then jet off again perhaps on a Sunday, so it was tough but we committed to it and the lifestyle out there is gorgeous, so we enjoyed being there.
“It was straight back to rainy old Manchester though for us, which was a big shock but the experience of being in France let me learn a lot about the culture and language, and some of the people I met at Stade Niçois were absolutely outstanding club folk.
“So yeah, we packed back up and came home, we had a few little projects going on and then the opportunity came up to assist Stuart [Yule, Head S&C Coach, Scotland] for the Autumn Tests, which I bit his hand off at.
“I had to present to the coaches about what I thought the role might look like, how I could add value and so on, so I got a decent grilling from the boys and rightly so! But it went well and we agreed I would join the set-up for the Autumn.
“It was just great to get back into coaching, on-field, in-the-mix, time on task with players and getting the best out of them, and it’s been such a refreshing thing from my point of view. I get to learn from some of the best coaches in the system and I’ve learned ridiculous amounts in such a short period already.”
Leck’s involvement with the Scotland set-up has seen him at times involved in running as opposition in training, an enjoyable but taxing task for a former player, as he explained: “I’ve obviously not played for a number of years now and I think during the fallow week in the autumn of last year, a few guys had been released back to their clubs to play and I was asked to jump in and run at 9 in the training scenarios.
“I was like ‘oh my god, this is the first time I’ve properly trained like this since I stopped’, and your mind instantly goes back to how it was when you played; how fast it all was. I genuinely thought in my Edinburgh days that we’d played fast, fast rugby but the game has kicked on so much again in that space of time.
“The speed these lads play at is genuinely scary and it’s so good to see because we’ve got Ali [Price], the likes of Scott Steele coming in – really hard-working kid, Jamie Dobie coming in and looking established already. It makes you think these young lads are maturing quicker than ever, despite putting their dates of birth down as being 2000, 2001, and it’s just great to see and very promising. We’ve also got George Horne to come back, who’s very exciting so there’s plenty to come through.
“I actually did manage to help set up a try which was something, and then I was told I could drop out and I was delighted, I was seriously blowing and had no warm-up!
“It was quite nice but at the same time, the body didn’t appreciate it the next day – my groins and hamstrings were on fire, saying to me ‘what on earth are you doing?’, but it was good fun and took me back a few years for half an hour!”
When he’s not trying to showcase the skills of yesteryear, Leck’s ‘proper’ role sees him assist the coaching staff in all manner of exercises to do with Strength and Conditioning, which he says during a championship is as much about keeping players in prime shape as anything else.
“For this championship [Guinness Six Nations] we were there to physically maintain qualities, both from an injury risk point of view and making sure that players have got a minimal amount of work to do but enough to allow them to perform at Test match level come the weekend,” he said.
“What we’re trying to do is look at ways of transferring skills onto the pitch and I think that’s something that this environment does very well at the moment. There’s a great link between the coaches and it’s all linked up to make sure the limited time we have with the players is maximised. Turning boys round in short periods is tough; sometimes a ‘less is more’ approach, especially as you get through the weeks and the residual effects of Test match rugby start to show.”
It’s been a whirlwind year for all of us, no less Chris Leck, who certainly appreciates the unpredictability of what life as a rugby coach can entail, adding: “I’d never have thought things would have turned out like they have! It’s fairly strange sometimes what life throws at you but from my end I’ve been very fortunate and grateful for the opportunity.”