Last night, The Abbey hosted 100 guests who enjoyed a three-course meal and a talk from rugby legend Conor O’Shea. The charity evening was a celebration of his career and a great opportunity for rugby fans to ask questions in a way they had never been able to before.
The meal for the evening was a fantastic fusion of Irish and Italian food, carefully created by Holroyd Howe and inspired by Conor’s varied rugby career. This went down a treat with everyone.
Conor was capped 35 times by Ireland and represented them at the 1995 and 1999 Rugby World Cups. A key player for London Irish, he won the Premiership’s Player’s Player of The Year in 1998/99. After his playing career ended due to injury, Conor became Director of Rugby at London Irish and was awarded Zurich Rugby Director of the Season in 2002. Conor then joined Harlequins as Director of Rugby and between 2011 and 2013 led the club to its most successful period to date. Conor became Head Coach of the Italian National Team in 2016 and led them to the 2019 World Cup in Japan. Over his career, he has also held positions including Director of the National Academies at the Rugby Football Union and National Director of the English Institute of Sport.
In his talk, Conor spoke of the importance of listening to your team and adapting to their learning style and culture. He also produced some funny anecdotes about his experiences in rugby coaching over the years, including how a language barrier can result in some interesting live interviews. A Q&A session led to some more technical questions from the avid rugby fans in attendance, which Conor answered with ease.
Conor’s wife, Alexandra, is an alumna of The Abbey, and they are parents to two daughters – one who currently attends The Abbey and one who will be starting next year. He talked about how good sportsmanship can be fostered from an early age through team work and encouragement, and highlighted the importance of this. Engaging in sport, whether rugby or any other physical activity, enables young people to grow and develop skills in a fun environment and Conor was impressed with how The Abbey does this so well for the students.
Conor concluded by describing how in rugby, you borrow the jersey of the team you are coaching, you don’t own it; but you hope to leave it in a better state when you give it back at the end of your time with the team. Conor paid tribute to Rachel Dent, Head of The Abbey, who is leaving us next year to take on a Headship with Harrow in Beijing. He suggested that she has done the same at The Abbey by taking the School forward during her time here, leaving it in a much better place.
The evening was held in aid of Ufulu, a charity started by Abbey alumna Widge Woolsey that is looking to alleviate period poverty in Malawi, and the Abbey’s 1887 Fund for bursaries. This included a raffle, with guests winning an England rugby jersey signed by the World Cup team; two Rugby World Cup (RWC) rugby balls signed by Conor; and an RWC ‘rugby values’ t-shirt.
Today, it was confirmed in the press that Conor has accepted a new position as Director of Performance at the Rugby Football Union. He will be instrumental in planning the England rugby team’s route to the 2023 World Cup and, with his input, we hope to see the team come away as World Champions!