- George Skivington is a powerful figure in the world rugby family
- Both on and off the field he commands respect and his natural leadership qualities have recently seen him combine the roles of player & coach
- Earlier this summer George was asked to help coach the Samoan Rugby team in the run up to an international game against the All-Blacks
George’s knowledge and experience as a player, captain and coach allowed him to transcend borders and nations to be an effective force with the Samoan rugby family.
Q: How did you become involved with the Samoan rugby family?
GS: I got the ball rolling by gaining a good reputation as a line-out coach at London Irish. I know a few of the Samoan players well and they asked if I could help them out with a bit of, almost consultancy, in the build up to their game against the All-Blacks. At first it was just an idea, but after a few phone calls and conversations over coffee the opportunity came up to travel to Samoa. I was thrilled to get the invite.
Q: What has coaching taught you about the game?
GS: Coaching is such an exciting experience. First and foremost I have no intention of hanging up my boots as a player just yet, but coaching has allowed me to do so many excellent things. I love it. I have learnt so much about the game and gained different perspectives from opportunities I would not have had as a player. The opportunity with Samoa was like a project, I was brought in to help primarily with the forwards in the run up to the All-Blacks game. It was the first time New Zealand had travelled to Samoa, the anticipation and excitement of the players, team and whole country was so powerful. The Samoan family have such an exciting culture.
Adjusting to the Samoan mentality had its challenges, it’s a different culture of earning respect and leading. I had to work hard to show that I was worthy of their respect. Once I had earned it, the team would do anything for me.
Q: Were there any initiations involved with the team?
GS: There were two initiations, early on I had to walk down through the line of players on the pitch shirtless. They took turns to slap me, it’s a ritual of theirs and I had to respect it. It was painful but it bonded me to them. I also had to do a dance with the players in a circle watching me, I had to make it up after being dragged in. It’s their way of doing things and I had to get involved otherwise I would have lost their respect very quickly.
After training, the Samoan players go home and spend a lot of time with their families. In the evening we would all sit around talking, discussing and praying. It’s a religious culture, one with a lot of respect for each other and the Bible.
Q: Did your time in Samoa give you an understanding of the adjustments Samoan players make when they come to the UK?
GS: They’re two different worlds the UK and Samoa, vastly different in many ways. Samoa can be raw at times, moving from there to England, things must feel so foreign, the luxuries and cultural aspects I imagine would be very strange. Life in Samoa is very simple, in a really positive way. It took me a while to get used to, and at first I missed home. But rugby is what breaks through this, it’s the language that we spoke as a team, it’s how we bonded and it’s beautiful. Rugby is a great game for that, one thing we understand is the game and the relationships it forms, at first when I arrived I was the white guy from England, but after I gained their respect on the field I was part of the family. You have to be a group to win. I’ve known that for years, you can’t allow anyone to go off course, you have to claim ownership when you’re right and when you’re wrong. You have to be honest, like you are with your family, for things to be productive. There will always be tough training weeks, things won’t always go to plan, but when game day comes, you go to war as a family, as a team, and that’s true throughout the world.
Q: Was it a difficult transition not only to move rugby families but also in a leadership capacity?
GS: I’ve spent a lot of my career as a leader, building line outs and coaching forwards. It was strange in some ways going to coach Samoa though, as I had played against and with a few of the players so starting as an authoritative figure was tough. A lot of them didn’t know my coaching and playing history. I took the bull by the horns so to speak, and hoped what I was saying made sense. There was a lot of pressure with the All Blacks game on the horizon. The Samoan nation embraces rugby like no other. It’s their lives in a lot of cases. They live and breathe the game. I loved being part of it, entering the Samoan family for that time. By the time the All Blacks arrived in Samoa the streets were lined with flags like a huge royal party. People believed in the team, everyone was behind the nation. That kind of spirit can get lost over here. I’ve never seen spirit like that. It was truly admirable. We lost by 9 points in the end, but considering that previously, Samoa lost by almost 100, it was a great result and rightfully celebrated.
Q: How does it feel now you’re part of the Samoan rugby family?
GS: I love it. I have learnt so much and when the team came together for that match against the All Blacks I was so proud to associate myself with it. I made some great friends in players and coaches and however my career turns out, the Samoans accepting me will be a key highlight. I will always feel humbled to be part of the family and for the experiences they gave me. I feel truly privileged.