Renowned Canadian author, Malcom Gladwell, once identified three core pillars he trusted as being the key drivers of success: good timing, persistence and cultural background.
All key attributes which best describe rugby’s great ‘outlier’, Ryan Martin, who despite having never played professionally, is universally lauded as being one of the most innovative attacking minds in world rugby today.
As he begins his new role as Rebels’ Assistant Coach, Martin credits an early passion for teaching and effective behavioural management for kick-starting his career in “New Zealand’s national game.” “I’ve been teaching for over 17 years now,” said Martin.
“When I was teaching in South Auckland in 2004, I quickly realised that if I coached the kids outside the classroom, it would help develop my behaviour management skills, so that became my first foray into coaching.
“That initial process gave me a huge appreciation of just how to make individuals better and how different people learn in different ways. One of my strengths is skill acquisition and at the end of the day coaching is really about teaching, so they go hand in hand.”
In 2010, Martin pursued a new teaching opportunity, returning to his alma mater high school in Dunedin, where he would be named Head Coach of the Otago Boys’ Highschool First XV.
“Coaching the First XV in New Zealand is basically semi-professional, especially with the coverage of Sky Sports, where with the hype and interest, if we lose, our school legitimately goes into mourning, so that was a great opportunity for me and a big step-up.”
Martin’s dedication and connection with his students quickly translated to sustained on-field success, as Otago went on to win 64 consecutive games and qualify for the national final, despite having limited resources as compared to their private school rivals.
It was during this pivotal five-year period that Martin would realise a professional coaching career might be within his grasp.
“This was a really important time during my coaching career, without a doubt.”
“Early on in 2012, we made the national final, and we were a public school and up against private schools. We had a roll of 800 max, and the schools we were up against had more superior resources and talent pools.
“Despite all of this, we made it through to the final against St Kentigern College and that was the moment for me where l thought, wow maybe what I’m doing is actually alright and I can survive in this game as a coach.”
Martin’s growing reputation soon led to recognition on the national level when he was named as Head Coach of the New Zealand Schools Barbarians side.
Igniting some of New Zealand’s best and brightest junior talents, the Barbarians would go undefeated against both the Australian and Fijian schools during a dominant 2014 campaign, underlining both the impressive talent of New Zealand’s next generation and the tantalising prospects for their young Head Coach.
Two years later, Martin made his first entrance into professional rugby, signing with hometown Mitre 10 side, the Otago Rugby Club, as their full-time Attack Coach.
Martin’s down-to-earth personality, paired with his calculating, forensic-like, coaching mind, led to immediate success for his new club, with Otago claiming the Ranfurly Shield, on their way to qualifying for the Championship Division Final.
“Claiming the Ranfurly Shield was another big step in my coaching journey.”
“We went up to Waikato and we weren’t expected to be able to compete with limited resources and they also had a lot more Super Rugby players than us.
“Winning that game against all the odds, that was a cool moment for me and that really helped solidify my ideas about coaching and wanting to grow and progress further in the game.”
Following a valuable stint as Head Coach of Global Rapid Rugby’s Asia Pacific Dragons in 2019, Martin embarked on a new opportunity, accepting Dave Wessels' invitation to join the Melbourne Rebels as a short-term attack consultant coach for the 2020 Super Rugby season.
The Rebels opened the new season strongly, placing second in the Australian conference following thrilling wins against the Highlanders (28-22) and the Lions (37-17), with exciting winger, Andrew Kellaway, leading the competition with seven tries from just six games.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic would prematurely end Melbourne’s eleventh Super Rugby campaign, leading to Martin returning to his hometown in New Zealand.
Despite this frustrating setback, one thing was clear – Ryan Martin belonged on the Super Rugby stage.