Interview with Michiel Snijders & Barro Kessler

As far as necessary, can you introduce yourself?

Michiel:          My name is Michiel Snijders, 49 years old and soon to be 50…, I live in The Hague, where I also started my rugby career. Also, I studied in Leiden and am currently working in the learning industry and rugby.

At the age of 6, I started at the HRC mini’s and progressed through the youth teams to debut for HRC 1 at the age of 16. At that time, I also played for Klein and later the Jong Oranje. In 1988 I switched to the seniors of HRC and played a season as a center in HRC, while I had played as a flanker for Jong Oranje. The switch to the center and flyhalf was so good that I was allowed to show up in that position for Netherlands B, after which I made the switch to the DSR-C as a flyhalf, to play at the top of the Netherlands in those years. A second place in the Ereklasse was a unique achievement. During this time, I was also allowed to play my first international matches for the Netherlands. After this, I went back to HRC, this time as a flyhalf and then also had some great adventures at Bath RFC, where I lived and played for a year, and Port Adelaide, Australia where I also played a season. Upon my return, I played my last active rugby year for DIOK, which made me the first national champion.

In the year that I became champion with DIOK, I also became the coach of a senior team for the first time, namely the LSRG, where I spent 5 wonderful years and actually got to know the student (rugby) life. After this, I was asked to become a coach of RC the Bassets, with whom, among other achievements, I reached the cup final. Also a beautiful club full of people with rugby passion. In 2005 HRC approached me to become head coach there, which I remained until 2007. HRC is my “home club”, just like Barro’s and yet we both didn’t leave in a great way. It is precisely that farewell that has laid the foundation for our further coaching career for both Barro and myself. I went back to the Bassets for another 3 years before the DSR-C asked me to become their coach in 2011, something I’ve been doing up to this season, with the last 4 seasons with Barro. In that period, we made great strides, of course the promotion to the Ereklasse but especially the (type of) rugby that we play. Besides, we have also been national coaches of the Dutch Student Team since last year.

Barro:           I was born in the Netherlands but moved to South Africa at a young age. I spent 15 years there, after which I moved back to The Hague. HRC became my club. In the youth of HRC we became several times champion at junior and colts level. I was named as youth player of the year in the Netherlands and also for the club in 1997. With Jong Oranje we have been in 2 finals. When I was 18 I played a season in New Zealand to gain experience. When I came back, I played HRC1 for 5 straight years. At that time, I played maybe a hundred games for the HRC1 with 2 national championships and several cups that we won at the time (in my own country but also the BeNeCup). In addition, I also played for the Netherlands and earned about 20 caps there. Then I moved to Ireland. There I played for about 5 seasons for two different clubs, Banbridge and Ards Rugby. Back then these clubs played at a national level. I played about 80 games during this time. With the economic crisis of 2008, I moved back to the Netherlands. Due to injuries and lack of time I started coaching a bit more. I started with the 2nd team with juniors and colts teams and also as assistant coach of the 1st and also temporary head coach.

And now you have taken the step to the RSRC, why did you come to this club?

Michiel:           In other interviews, I called the step to RSRC a natural switch. Several clubs were “interested” in us as a coaching duo, as you call it nowadays. There were also a number of Ereklasse clubs and so Barro and I sat down together to decide where we wanted to go. Or rather, what we actually wanted as coaches, for ourselves and for the club that we were going to coach. Our conclusion was that we only want to work with a healthy club, based on Dutch players, with ambition and commitment that is accompanied by a clear vision of where that club wants to go. A nice sentence, which caused a few clubs to drop out immediately, and also caused us to suddenly look at offers very differently. Because of our national team at the NST we already knew a few RSRC boys, and I remember 1 game of RSRC against LSRG where I came to watch last season. That’s when I think it started to interest me.

The club that met most of those ridiculous questions we asked ourselves in that sentence turned out to be RSRC. Ambitious, not thinking in the short term and haphazardly strengthening, a healthy base of Dutch players with ambition. In addition, the club appeared to have a healthy view of where the club should go and how. Not only the first team but also the 2nd and 3rd. The challenge for me and Barro is to combine those good qualities of yours with what we hopefully do well, which is creating structure, ensuring organization and, above all, having a huge amount of fun in rugby.

My father was coach of the DSR-C, HRC, KMD and RSRC and of course DIOK. It was not a decisive factor for me, but I am proud that I follow his path a bit. As you may know, he passed away recently. I would have liked to have told him that I am going to work at RSRC, he would have been very proud and have thought it was a good choice.

Barro:           I like a challenge and Michiel too. In that regard, we share the same thoughts when it comes to rugby. Knowing what RSRC had to offer in terms of talent and the passionate admiration for improvement appealed to me from the start. A three-year plan with the result of the Ereklasse Rugby really appeals to me. I would like to work with Michiel on a stronger legacy of the club. Not only top sport but also in breadth.

What do you expect to achieve with the RSRC and how?

Michiel:           We are ”Hagenezen”, and I am also a ”Hagenees” who studied in Leiden, so we are very outspoken. Also in our ambition. We want to become champion next year and promote the RSRC. It may be a strange ambition if you played plate this season, but we think we see that potential. In fact, the year after we do not want to linger in the bottom 6 of the 1st class, but at the top. Strong statements, but for us performance is not the goal but the result of good vision, commitment and ambition of trainers and players. By building and laying down the structure that we think we can create an environment wherein players can enjoy playing rugby and translate that into their performance. After 25 years of coaching, I think I can estimate that in a group and club. That is also the only reason that we have come from the Ereklasse to the second class, to pick you up as a club and pull you up with our drive and enthusiasm, and that certainly includes a winner’s mentality. But again, that’s not something you “make”, winning is a result of everything that comes before that. The large magic pot of Asterix and Obelix where everything goes into before magic potion comes out. We will add those ingredients together.

Barro:           I will expect a lot from the players in the coming seasons, but we will do that together in many areas. That takes time and patience. The focus in the beginning will mainly be on basic skills and fitness. As far as I am concerned, the two most important components of the game. The game plan will be an ongoing document, which is closely related to everything we are going to do. Yes, what we want to achieve is a difficult question, because I know what I want to achieve. It will depend on the group of players what they want to achieve. Attendance at training will become requirement number one, but in that respect, I know that we are in the right place.

You are also head coaches of the Dutch Student Team, can you tell us something about that?

Michiel:           The re-establishment of the Dutch Student Team was an initiative from me and Barro together with Toon Boersma and Eduard. The idea behind this was actually that I wanted to see my best players from Delft in an even better team, but not with flown in Kiwis but with other Dutch top students. We want to test ourselves against good teams, give the players a platform to take the spotlight at Rugby Netherlands and top clubs, because the way that Rugby Netherlands makes selections often excludes these boys in advance. This was a great success last year and we hope to build on that this season.

Barro:           The Dutch Student Team is an important project for us. We believe that student rugby should be on the podium in the Dutch rugby community. If you look into rugby history books, the Black Owl was a prominent rugby team at the time. That has to happen again. We as a management team are working hard to create more exposure for the NST and I expect great things.

Do you have a different way of coaching here or do you have a fairly universal approach everywhere?

 Michiel:            Barro and I may be a bit of the Ajax of rugby. We firmly believe in a certain rugby philosophy. We don’t change that much. However, it is clearly different from many other clubs at this level. We want to play open and adventurous at all times, against the first place and the last place. We see our own 22m as a great attacking platform and try to convince the players that rugby with the ball in hand is the most effective and fun to play. When I brought Barro to Delft, we combined that with an enthusiastic and well-organized defence where we don’t give any gifts. So, we do not adapt to the team and the material, we take the material with us in our vision and style and get the most out of it. That is no better or worse than other visions or coaches, but it is our thing. We want to lead the way, innovate, be smarter and look tactically ahead. You don’t do that by copying a game plan, but by developing one yourself and daring things.

Barro:           Our coaching approach will not differ much from what we do during the week. Students want to play rugby and we understand that very well, so it is up to us as coaches to challenge those players. I can tell you that it’ll never get boring.

 And personally, what are your biggest differences? And rugby technically?

Michiel:           Personally, Barro and I are very different, both politically (which makes hilarious FB conversations, don’t miss them!) and in our approach in life. Barro is the world-conscious man with responsible green fingers, I prefer my fingers to be green from the beermats in my favourite pub on Friday. Barro sees the right and wrong in everything and has to do something with it and I navigate a bit more in the middle of life without always saying that. Naturally, age also plays a role in this. The beauty of putting two of those characters together is that it EITHER complements OR clashes enormously. It quickly became clear to us that it was the first. There is also a difference in rugby technically, Barro is the man who chooses clarity. In defence, and in attack. Hard, committed, passionate, 80 minutes long. I am the one who therefore ensures that we have and keep the ball and do something clever with it. That game plan complements each other very well and leads to beautiful things, and I think we have already proven that.

Barro:           The collaboration with Michiel was born out of love for the game. We are technically aligned, it is more a matter of how you complement each other. When it comes to the backs, the rucks of the forward or the box kick of the scrum-half, there is always “room for improvement”. Maybe if you want to define us better, I am the “bad cop” and Michiel the “good cop”. You will notice soon enough.

Michiel I understand that you used to play with Meindert?

Yes, I did. Meindert was “my 9” when I played 10 at DSR-C, or maybe I was “his 10”. We have had a wonderful time together, something that has always given us a bond. The type of rugby we played back then is also the basis of the philosophy I still use and I know that Meindert can relate to that. Meindert is also nice and vocal and thinks that players should dare to express themselves. In words, but also on the field. To speak with the words of my father from that time: “” We have no use for grey mice. ”

A scrum-half and a fly-half cannot go without another. In those seasons I kicked a lot of drop goals in matches with Meindert in the Ereklasse. People still remember that. Only I could never have made those drop goals without a scrum-half who knew on which foot and in which pocket I wanted those balls. So, we made each other better. Trust me, I’ve also played with other scrum-halves who personally made sure I didn’t kick those drop goals …. and Meindert will have played with flyhalves who, despite a perfect pass, still kicked the ball three high into the Kuip …. Halfbacks, they don’t go hand in hand. Our sponsor was then Robijntje, cuddly soft. Nuff Said.

Do you see any cooperation?

Michiel:           If Meindert would like to mean anything within RSRC this season, I would love that. He has been working hard in the background to ensure that we are here now as coaches, which indicates that he can also see it happening.

Yes about your time at DSR-C, what did you remember most?

Michiel:            Our time at DSR-C. Winning over HRC1, at DIOK and Castricum. Joining the big boys as a group of students and with kind of rugby we played back then. Technical, fast, very hard and with two smart halfbacks 😉

Barro:             The camaraderie of the DRS-C as a club was leading in the five years that I was given the chance to give training there. It provided the team spirit next to the field and the necessary fighting spirit on the field. Three years of Ereklasse along with the 100 year’s celebration is a legacy that those boys will never forget.

What is so beautiful about student rugby?

Michiel:          Students and soldiers often get along well. Just look at your staff in recent years. Students don’t whine, they do, always, and without questions. Those questions will come but at the right time. This is different for burgers, who often have opinions something at times when they should not. Burger clubs are also more complicated than student clubs, often at the expense of performance on the field. You can grow with students, they are young and often outspoken, they still have a healthy dose of giving a shit about everything and have the enthusiasm that you find less at ”burgerclubs”. I remember Barro’s first season with Delft, he was like a child in a candy store after his time at HRC. Forty men who all said “yes” to him and just wanted to join him in battle.

Barro:             I like student rugby. It is a matter of listening, performing, developing and growing. It is in the rugby student’s DNA to always want to develop and improve. That is exactly what we want. We offer a package that consists of offensive rugby, an innovative game, lots of tackles, lots of rucks and fewer scrums. I can guarantee that we will not standstill. The DNA of our game plan is completely made for students.

And Barro, I understood that you got involved in student rugby a little more recently than Michiel, how did you experience this switch? Did you find it a big difference at all?

Where it may look messy among students, there is more solidarity and discipline among students than among burgers. There is a natural camaraderie among rugby students that is born from taking responsibilities from the first year that you are at a club and I like that. This is the case with the game you play on the field but also outside the field, such as a board position. Everyone has a role at the club and everyone has to take their responsibilities, such as the “call round” we had at DSR-C. Every club in the Netherlands should function like this.

Also important for students, what is your best memory that you do not remember?

Michiel:           You have to ask her for that….

Barro:             Scoring the winning try for HRC against Boisfort in the 2002 Eurocup final in the final seconds of the match.

Most beautiful trip? And why?

Michiel:           Canada 1987 and 1991 with the HRC colts. We then travelled through Ontario for almost a month with three vans filled with HRC colts. Every few days a new club, a new host family and new memories. We only played against senior teams, won almost everything and made it to the final of a major National Sevens tournament. In that month, my rugby friends became my rugby family. We came back to the Netherlands and nobody could make us do anything anymore. And that’s only based on those tour guys who can call me at 3:30 am if they need anything. Some do that too… usually just after too much beer. 😊

Barro:           The most beautiful trip I made was a trip to South Africa with the colts in 1997. A three-week tour with 6 games. We won 3 and lost 3. The great thing about that team was that a few years later, 80% of them were in the first of HRC. We then won many prizes. We were a very good group. I also went on tour with the Netherlands in Northern Ireland. The following year I went back and stayed there for 6 years.

What personally is your highest played rugby match in terms of level?

Michiel:          Dutch Team and Ereklasse

Barro:              My debut for the Dutch team was against Scotland A at Murrayfield 1999. I was only 18 years old at the time. We lost by a big margin then and I scored a try, but it was unjustly rejected, just ask Arno Seybel…

Is that also your best rugby moment? If not, which one then?

Michiel:            My favourite rugby moment is my debut for the Netherlands against Australia in Den Bosch. I was allowed to play for fifteen minutes, passed three balls and came off covered in scratches and blood from the field because I was in the wrong position in my first ruck. We played against John Eales, who would claim the World Cup a few years later as captain of Australia.

Barro:            The most beautiful rugby moment for me has to be getting “man of the match” in a match against Sweden in Sweden. I had the night of my life. The most beautiful moment internationally seen must be the performance of Japan in the previous World Cup.

I like my underdogs.

 Finally, not entirely unimportant, “How many seconds”?

Barro:           The students will soon find out what character training is… “counting seconds” will soon become irrelevant.

Michiel:           That answer is also simple.


I drink with friends. And that’s not what you guys are. We are your coaches and will keep our distance from 3rd half “Shenanigans”. Our task lies in the halves before them, for fun you’ll find enough ways yourself. That may suddenly sound harsh, but we keep that distance. After a win, we are certainly straight on the Spa red, we’ll definitely join for a beer, but we’ll celebrate the real celebration when we return home with our friends. Rugby and enjoyment are inextricably linked, in fact, it cannot be done without each other. But “How many seconds?” Is a question you will never ask me. Hopefully, we are in the group because of our personality and commitment, not because of the speed with which I down a beer.

That said, I can really enjoy it from a distance, and I like to encourage my friends to join for a third half at the club. From this season we will combine that student atmosphere to the right mentality on and around the field and that combination will ensure that the RSRC is going to have great times, we are sure of that!

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