Mark McCall

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Mark McCall (born 29 November 1967 in Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland) is an Irish former rugby union player and former coach of Ulster.[1] He played 13 times for the Ireland national rugby union team, making his debut against New Zealand on 30 May 1992 as a substitute. He started in his second match the following month, also against New Zealand.[2]

He played a Five Nations match against Wales in 1994, and came off the bench to play against England in 1996. He played against Australia later that year. He played four times in 1997; against New Zealand, Canada and twice against Italy. He also played against Scotland and England in the 1998 Five Nations, finishing his career later that year with two matches against South Africa. His entire thirteen match career went without him scoring a single point internationally. He scored more than 100 points for his club career. He then coached Ulster and won the Magners league (now the Pro 12) in 2006.[2]

After his career as a player the former inside centre coached both Ireland U21s and Ireland A and was a deputy coach for Ulster and then made the head coach in 2004. He was the head coach of the province for three years, during which they won the Celtic League (now also the Pro 12) in 2006 and led nine Ulster players to play in the Irish team, the highest number since the game went professional.[3]

He signed with Guinness Premiership (now the Aviva premiership) side Saracens to join up with new coach Brendan Venter for the 09/10 season as first team coach; after Brendan Venter left midway through the 2010/2011 season he took charge as Director of Rugby, at the beginning of 2013 he renewed his contract until the end of 2015.[4] In the 2010/2011 season his team was unbeaten and went on to win the Premiership.[5] In the 2012 season he managed them to go on to be the only English team to qualify for the Heineken Cup. Since the beginning of the 2011/2012 season McCall's team have played 35 games in the Aviva Premiership and won 26 of them.

He has two children: Bryn McCall who is 16 and Jemma McCall who is 14. His father Conn played cricket for Ireland.[6]

Mark McCall, though he has appeared far less in the news than his predecessor, who was penalised several times for speaking against rugby's organising bodies,[7] was notable in attacking the difficulties being faced by English teams within the Heineken Cup. [8] He has also appeared in the news for his radical increasing of the rotation system at Saracens, despite occasional controversy, either on account of lost chances by Saracens or accusations that rotational policy undermines the sport. Although this seems to be successful for McCall.[9]

McCall lead Saracens to the Heiniken Cup Final in 2014 but they lost to Toulon.

As Mark McCall recalls while he takes a breather from a high-paced training session with his stellar Saracens squad, it was a mixture of happenstance and destiny that brought him into coaching. McCall was a 31-year-old centre at the top of his playing game with Ulster and Ireland when he suffered a prolapsed disc in his neck that obliged him to change tack. He had a law degree, and had taken careful steps along that career path by working part-time for a solicitor.

Still here, what's more, as Director of Rugby at a club with an increasingly prominent profile in England and internationally, with Saracens and their glut of star Test players - Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt, Alex Goode and Billy and Mako Vunipola among them - consistently at or near the top of the Premiership in recent years, and in the latter stages of European competition. When McCall began coaching "it used to be one or two coaches laying down the law"; he finds himself now at the head of a staff comprising specialist backs, forwards and positional coaches, a performance director, strength and conditioning staff and a couple of full-time personal development managers. "Before I have a conversation with a player," says McCall, "I will go to a personal development manager to talk about the best way to go. In my time as a player you were always told what to work on. Here we concentrate on what they bring, not what they don't bring."

The coach McCall picks out for "an energy and an infectiousness which I liked a lot" is Willie Anderson, the former Ireland lock forward and captain who famously faced down the All Blacks' 'haka' at Lansdowne Road, and coached McCall at Dungannon and London Irish. "Willie had an affinity with players," says McCall, "and a desire to bring the best out of people, which is the most important thing really. He had that personal touch." And there is a thread you can trace to the present day at Saracens, where they make team-bonding trips to exciting and exotic locations and consciously foster a "wolf-pack" mentality, home and away. There is a distinction in match analysis and practice between an 'effort error' and a 'skill error'. No player will be ripped into by McCall, his staff or any colleague for a lack of skill. Not trying hard enough would be quite another matter.

"Coaching has got all sorts of different strands to it," says McCall, his softly-spoken style in no way masking his enthusiasm. "It's not just about improving someone's passing and kicking; it's improving how they look at problems, how they look at setbacks. These young fellows at our club get a great education, not just from the coaching staff but from a lot of people around the scenes who help them deal with situations that arise in life and in rugby. We're a positive coaching group. At team meetings we don't set out to embarrass players in front of the others. They know where they stand, and what's expected - there is nothing like a written code of conduct, but we certainly have standards that we all adhere to - and then those other conversations take place behind closed doors. At its bottom line, coaching is about getting the best out of people."

In 2015 Mark McCall's Saracens won the Aviva Premiership against Bath. This is his third trophy (Magners League, 2x Aviva Premiership) in 7 years. He has also won Aviva Premiership Director of Rugby twice in 2012/13 and 2013/14.