DEVONPORT Services have officially confirmed former Saracens and Racing Metro forward Ben Russell as their new head coach for next season.
Russell, who since retiring and moving to Devon has worked at Ivybridge Community College and as a national referee, will take over from Mike Lewis, who is standing down from the role after six years due to work and family commitments.
Lewis’ final home game will be today when Devonport Services play Crediton at the Rectory in the final of Devon Senior Shield.
It was Lewis that recommended former England Sevens star Russell, who was looking to get his teeth stuck into club coaching after stepping back from refereeing.
Devonport were not the only club believed to have been keen on his services, but the 39-year-old admitted the role at the Rectory really excited him.
“I do feel excited and privileged to have this opportunity,” said Russell. “This is a club that is steeped in history.
“As soon as Mike came to me, I was like ‘hello’. I have wanted to coach a side for a long time.
“And this is a club I feel should be higher and my fingers are very firmly crossed for a week on Saturday. I think they deserve it (promotion) and if they do go up to South West Premier or whatever it will be called, I think it would be brilliant.
“I am just very excited and I just can’t wait to get my teeth into it.”
Russell, who was forced to retire from playing in 2014 due to injury, took up refereeing and quickly rose through the ranks, but now he is keen to make his name as a club coach, having successfully coached at college level.
“I have stopped refereeing now,” he said. “I really enjoyed refereeing but it was a lot of travelling when my wife was working full-time.
“And it was never really number one for me. If you ask me now if I want to coach or referee, it would be coach every day of the week.
“I love coaching rugby. It is my passion and I just want to help develop people. I want people to get better and go far.
“It is not just about winning things but helping individuals get better as well.
“Whether a guy is 35 or 20, I want to develop people and make them better rugby players. If you make them better rugby players then results will get better and better as well. I just can’t wait. “
Russell admits he has been impressed with the whole set-up at Devonport Services – not only with their facilities, but with the fact that they have teams at every age group and level for both male and female players.
“Not only is this club steeped in history and has the navy links, but it also has the junior section and it’s got the girls’ section. There should be a conveyor belt of talent coming through to the first team.
“There’s not many clubs have both the history and have all the full sections. Devonport also have a second and third team.
“I was actually shocked at the amount of players that do want to play here. People want to play here because it’s Devonport Services and because they just love the club. They also have cracking facilities.”
Russell knows it will be tough to follow Lewis, who has transformed Services over the last few years from a mid-table Western Counties West side to one now challenging for promotion to level five.
“Mike has done an absolutely fantastic job and he is a Devonport player through and through,” said Russell. “He really loves the club and he’s not going to go fully away.
“There is pressure, but I like pressure. I think I am a good coach but I want to prove I am.
“My fingers are firmly crossed that we go to South West Premier, but if we don’t, we don’t.
“I have coached a few boys that are here already when they were at school and I don’t see it as pressure. It is just about what I want to achieve.
“If at the end of the first season I have not go us to where I believe I should have then I will be honest.
“There is a vision that I have. I want this club to go quite far. It is not going to happen next year or even in three or four years, but it might happen in five years.
“I think they deserve to be higher up the echelons of rugby and I will try my hardest to do that.”
Devonport Services secretary Fraser Pearson says they are delighted Russell wanted to join them.
“Ben was recommended to us by Mike Lewis and to me anything Mike Lewis says about rugby is true,” said Pearson.
“We welcome Ben to Devonport Services. He has a lot of ideas and ambition and the club are with him on that.
“We are firmly by his side and backing him where ever he wants to take us.”
Services’ cup final against Crediton today kick-offs at 3pm and the club are hoping for a big crowd to celebrate Lewis’ final home game and to try and help cheer the team on to win some silverware.