Top rugby coach leads tributes to Keith Bonser

“Visionary” tactician and mentor hailed.

Graham Smith, assistant coach of England’s Women’s Rugby World Cup winning side, has paid tribute to Keith Bonser, his coaching mentor and former Birmingham player, who died yesterday after a period of ill health.

Bonser was an inspiration to Smith and many other coaches in the Midlands during his time as RFU Divisional Technical Administrator. He played club rugby for Nottingham University, Nottingham and Birmingham and county rugby for Notts, Lincs & Derbyshire. Keith then enjoyed success as a coach with Birmingham, Moseley and North Midlands and coached Midlands Counties against Australia in 1975 while also working as assistant director of the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Birmingham University. His outstanding contribution to coaching was recognised with a special award for Services to Coaching at the Midlands Coaching Conference in 2009.

Bonser’s passing saddened Smith who was informed of the news by Ian Bletcher, an RFU Area Player Development Officer, during an England Women’s training session at Loughborough University. “Towards the end of my playing career I started doing some coaching and got on the awards system and Keith was one of the assessors,” said Smith, a former Moseley and Scotland A prop.

“He showed a lot of faith in me and he was instrumental in helping me get the Youth Development Officer job for North Midlands in 1993 when I was unemployed. Keith and Ian Bletcher helped me with some development work to give me some experience. He was a tremendous supporter.

“I used to end up writing a lot of articles for the old Technical Journal and Keith used to decipher them from my Black Country writing and make them sound plausible. He was an absolute gentleman who was respected by everybody as a DTA. Even later in life when he was in his mid-60s he had an approach that age is an attitude of mind not a number.

“His vision of the game was up there with Pierre Villepreux’s when Villepreux was trying to play an expansive style. Keith would always see something that others didn’t. He was a massive influence on me and many others. He just had an eye for the game and he had that touch of rugby genius to be able to get his point across when others might not have seen the same thing.”