17 May 13
Harlequins has confirmed an exciting group of pre-season fixtures as it prepares for the start of the 2013-14 season.
His formative years in a coaching set up at HQ was his first exposure to the concept of establishing culture in a squad, and the importance of maintaining a positive, confident, winning mentality amongst his young charges.
Having worked under current Harlequins Director of Rugby, Conor O'Shea at the RFU, Mark says he was not surprised to find the same expectations here at the outset of his new job.
"Conor was my boss then [at the RFU] - he was the Head of the National Academy at that stage and he was the big driver behind that, so coming here it was no surprise to me that that was part and parcel of what was expected and clearly we discussed that prior to me signing up here two seasons ago.
"That was my first exposure as a coach to the importance of culture. Probably ten or fifteen years ago when I was in my prime you could see that there were elements of that starting to come into coaching and the pro game. That was certainly my first real exposure to what culture meant and trying to bring it to a squad of 30-32 players."
"I remember coming down here and being involved in the coaching in a consultancy type role when I was working with the RFU and working with some of the younger players you could see that Quins' style was very much in evidence way before I turned up. Culturally Conor has really turned things around and put some really good ideas and practices in place which have allowed the young players that we have to grow and develop and become more confident."
Allowing young players to express themselves through rugby is at the core of the RFU Shaping the Game initiative, and Mapletoft says that the traditional Quins approach marries well with the concept. He goes on,
"Self-expression is probably more about the Quins' style and culture as opposed to anything we actually coach because if we don't have that off the pitch it's very hard to deliver it on the pitch."
"Clearly we do deliver it on the pitch and in training - but without the foundations off the field I think it would be very difficult to get that."
Such an effective cohesion in every aspect of preparation and development is difficult to achieve at the best of times, but when management, coaches and players are working in harmony for a collective goal results will follow. The Harlequins family is entirely functional in that regard as the successes of the past two seasons will attest.
The ability to blend youth and experience to winning effect is fast becoming a hallmark of Harlequins rugby, and Mark believes that the intimate knowledge of the elite young English backs gained through his years at the RFU - and through the research of Academy chief and old friend Tony Diprose has enabled Harlequins to get the very best out of their crop of young talent.
"It's fairly straightforward - you look at how a guy performs - any coach who is worth his salt would say 'good player' or 'not sure' but what you don't know if you've never worked with him is what he's like as a bloke. What's he like off the field? Has he got some bad habits? Does he like too much of a social lifestyle?
"And you know those things. You know how they react under pressure, you know what they are like culturally around the group. Are they a bad egg? They might have just one or two little nuances that just don't sit with the way that you want to drive things forward, and having worked with them, you know what they are like.
"We probably haven't as yet gone out there and recruited players necessarily that I've worked with - that's not to say in time that that will happen but it will give you a very broad understanding of who those players are and what those players are like and as Tony does at the Academy now - he takes more than a passing interest in what every other club is doing and will make his own informed decisions about those players and often compare them to what we have coming through."
The recipe for success is plain for all to see, and perhaps even more so that more people should raise their glass to the unsung heroes in the coaching and Academy team while feasting on the club's recent victories.
Today, in the first of six videos from Mapletoft, the backs coach discusses his contract extension with the club and his role in the coaching set up. To view the video, please click here.