Englishman Mike Ford is hoping to help Germany’s players realize their dreams and give them memories that no amount of money can buy.
In the past, Ford has worked with some of the game’s highest-paid stars during spells with England, Toulon and Bath, but he admits that you couldn’t put a price on what qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2019 would mean to his squad of mainly part-time players.
This month, Germany will compete with Hong Kong, Canada and Kenya at the global repechage tournament in Marseille for the last ticket to Japan 2019 – and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come face-to-face with the Haka and the All Blacks.
“The players want to be able to put the grandkids on their knees in 20-odd years’ time and tell them about the time they played the All Blacks at the World Cup," Ford (pictured) said.
“As a coaching group, we want to give them the very best shot they have got of winning it and realizing those dreams. Under the circumstances, this team will be the best prepared it can possibly be.”
While Ford’s previous international experience has been exclusively in tier one, with Ireland and England, Germany's Director of Rugby Paul Healy coached Uruguay on their journey to Rugby World Cup 2003 in his native Australia.
Healy’s tales of how Los Teros defied the odds to not only get there but also win a game at the tournament have resonated with Germany’s players.
“His story is not unlike where we are at the moment with Germany in terms of the way Uruguay qualified. How they had to take separate planes and it took them two days to get to Australia, how they were on significantly less money per game to the English boys. Despite all that, they were living their dream.
“They actually won a game, against Georgia, and got heavily beaten by England but Clive Woodward and a couple of the England boys came into the dressing room afterwards and swapped shirts and he said it was incredible for the Uruguay players.
“Fast-forward to Japan next year and Steve Hansen could be coming into the changing room with Kieran Read and swapping shirts with the German lads; they understand the opportunity that is in front of them.”
Germany played three, 30-minute training games against the Portuguese national side in Lisbon last weekend as part of their preparations for the repechage.
Only two-thirds of Ford's first-choice squad were available to him in Lisbon because of work and other commitments but, in the short time he has been in the job as Germany’s head coach, the 52-year-old has taken such challenges in his stride.
“One guy couldn’t go because something had happened at work and he was needed there, another guy couldn’t get a visa and one guy was getting married,” he explained. “After being here eight weeks, I’m not surprised by anything anymore.
“But saying that I have enjoyed it. You learn a lot more when you are out of your comfort zone.
“A good coach can always adapt to the environment and the level of players he is working with. As long as you leave that group of players in a better place than when you arrived, then you’ve done your job as a coach.”
Germany are the lowest-ranked of the four nations in the repechage tournament, but Ford is encouraged by the battling qualities shown by the team in losing the Europe/Oceania RWC 2019 play-off 108-43 on aggregate to Samoa in June and July.
“They were winning the second leg 28-21 with 15 minutes to go and with eight minutes to go, it was 28-28. Then they conceded two late tries to lose 42-28. Two weeks before they had 60 points put on them so to turn that around shows the character of the group and the ability they have got to fight,” Ford, the father of England fly-half George, said.
“The commitment these guys show is quite humbling really. They train with me and they train with the clubs as well as holding a job in between.
“This group of players will give everything they have got to get to Japan in 2019. There’s going to be a lot of emotion and we’ll feed off that and hopefully go and win the competition.
“I read a stat the other day that Germany had the highest TV audience for rugby sevens at the Rio Olympics, which was very interesting. In terms of exposure, it would be a massive leap forward for Germany at this stage of their growth as a rugby nation if we got to the World Cup.”© Rugbyworldcup.com