A cup final winner with Newcastle Falcons, Joe Shaw will be in the opposite dug-out to his former club when they visit Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens on Sunday.
The former England Sevens international spent six seasons on Tyneside before heading for Hong Kong and now, with a decade’s worth of coaching under his belt, the 33-year-old is making waves in the capital.
Helping coach a Saracens side laden with internationals, the ex-Northampton and Sale man explained: “Myself and Kevin Sorrell share the job of coaching the attack, but in terms of my main role it is basically looking after the personal skills of the players.
“That can be anything from passing to delivery of the ball from the line-out, basically ensuring that their needs are facilitated.”
Explaining the driving force behind a revival which has placed Saracens firmly in the top bracket of the English game Shaw highlighted the collective, stating: “It is an unbelievable place.
“You can be at teams that talk about things, or you can be at teams that actually do things.
“We get to do some amazing stuff here at Sarries with all the trips and things like that, but under-pinning all of that is the fact we work exceptionally hard.
“The whole culture and environment is very similar to what we had when I first joined the Falcons. We were a real family in those days, and it is the same now down here.
“There is genuinely a love for each other, and the whole coaching team will socialise together. We are really close, and the same is true of the players.
“It goes a long way, and it really reminds me of what I used to love about playing for Newcastle.
“I feel like I have found my home again.”
He added: “Our main strength, rather than any one player or any one facet of the game, is the environment we have created. Beyond what happens on the field it is the culture of the place, in terms of how you treat one another.
“Last year we were criticised by some people in the media for not scoring enough tries, but if you actually look at the stats we scored more tries in our last nine games than probably any team in Europe.
“This season we have hit the ground running and scored some really well-worked team tries, largely from Kevin Sorrell tweaking a few things during the summer.
“It is an attacking system that we hope is going to evolve, and even in its infancy it is paying off.”
Shaw’s excitement at facing Newcastle this weekend is indicative of a love for the club that remains undiminished, his flamboyant dive during the 2004 Powergen Cup final victory remaining one of the iconic images of their recent history.
Comparisons between that moment and the ‘Splash’ celebration of his Saracens pupil Chris Ashton have not gone unnoticed, the skills coach joking: “Yes, get that in. He will definitely read it and realise he has copied it off me. He’ll hate it!”
Still fondly attached to the Kingston Park club despite initial acrimony around his departure, Shaw said: “I loved Newcastle with all my heart, and it was so special to me.
“I was devastated to leave the club, because I had bled it. I put my body on the line, having 12 operations, and I just loved it all; the fans, the community – everything. It was actually quite nice when Newcastle played at Bedford last year, and the Saracens coaching team went because we had a few players in the Bedford side.
“I got chatting to some of the Falcons’ supporters, and ended up spending the afternoon with them. In true Geordie style they managed to convince me to get the train home after staying with them for a few beers, and it was just great to be in that company again.
“That will never change, and the friends I made during my time at the club will remain friends for life.
“We are all still very close, and guys like Hall Charlton, James Grindal, Hugh Vyvyan, Ollie Phillips, Geoff Parling and Lee Dickson – we will never lose touch.”
He added: “When we played, even though we didn’t win as much as we should have done, we were very close. The memories I shall take from that won’t go away.
“The Powergen Cup final was special for everybody,, but the main thing myself and a lot of the guys from that era remember is the memorial game we had for our team-mate Soa Otuvaka, who sadly passed away.
“That is a memory I will take forever, because everyone fronted up on such an emotional day. Paul Gascoigne and Peter Beardsley came on to take the conversions, and it was just an amazing experience. for the whole club and community.”
Always keen on coaching even during his playing says, Shaw served his apprenticeship at Westoe and Newcastle University before a successful three years in Hong Kong.
He said: “I realised very early into my career that your playing days could finish at any time, and I knew from day one that I wanted to be a coach.
“I didn’t want to be one of these guys that just finishes playing and expects to be given a job. I wanted to start at the bottom and build it up, so when someone like Saracens came and spoke to me I already had a decade’s worth of coaching under my belt. From doing all that Falcons Community Foundation work in schools and clubs around the North East, and freezing my back-side off coaching four nights a week instead of sitting in on my Playstation, it is nice to now say that it counted for something.”
Philosophical about his exit from Newcastle and the events that have unfolded as a result, Shaw added: “Things had changed an awful amount at the Falcons, and it was the right time for me to leave.
“I had been enjoying my time in Hong Kong when Saracens came on tour there. We got talking, I had an interview with them and got a job with their academy. I combined that with doing some skills coaching with their senior squad as time went on, and last summer became the full-time first-team skills coach.”
Aware of Newcastle’s threat this weekend, he said: “They are an impressive outfit now, and Dean Richards’ leadership as one of the all-time great Premiership directors of rugby has seen them building. If you are not on your game, they can hurt you.”