Where there is chaos, there is opportunity.

For many rugby lovers, the Covid-19 pandemic has stalled their involvement in the game. Players, coaches, and spectators have endured a period of frustration and concern – with a return to normality still some way away.

Tomas Marks however, has utilised the enforced break to the max. During lockdown he furthered his own coaching education, setting up Zoom meetings with the likes of Brad Mooar, Kevin Bowring, Stuart Lancaster, Brian Ashton and Nigel Redman.

Improving insight, analysing other philosophies, acquiring advice, none of this was a time filling exercise for the man dubbed ‘Sparky’ since his early playing days. It serves as a reflection of his clear ambition to one day coach at a high level in the professional game.

His rugby CV has already covered plenty of hard yards. A small but ultra-fast footed fly half, he shone for Ysgol Bro Myrddin at school level before gaining a rugby scholarship to Llandovery College. International honours followed with Wales at both Under 18 and what was then known as FIRA (under 19) level.

He was part of the Llanelli Under 21 title winning side of 2002/2003, and then the Llanelli RFC team which dramatically captured the Swalec Cup at the Millennium Stadium in 2005. Further stints followed with London Welsh in the English Championship, Le Bugue Athletique in France, and then back home with Premiership sides Glamorgan Wanderers and Llandovery, and Championship team Ammanford.

For two seasons at Stradey Park, we were teammates. If a half gap was there, he was often through it before the rest of us had even seen him. His tactical understanding was such that his recent rise comes of little surprise to many.

And sure enough, throughout his playing time, the desire to later go into coaching was burning bright. Although his first true experience of the concept came behind enemy lines, so to speak.

“It has always been my intention,” he told me last week.

“I studied sports coaching un UWIC for that purpose and while I was at London Welsh I worked for the RFU as a rugby development officer, with Twickenham as ‘HQ’.

“It was a great set up and at the time there was big investment in grassroots rugby in England. I went into schools, coached at Brunel University, and tried to establish links with local clubs. It was a great experience.”

The club also put Marks through his Level 3 coaching qualification, and there were meetings along the way with some who would later become famous, or notorious, depending on which angle you’re coming from.

“I worked with Marland Yarde while he was at Gunnersbury Boys’ School who went on to play for England, and met Boris Johnson while he was heading a project to try and inspire youngsters through rugby.”

But after returning back to Wales,  in 2013 his own boots were hung up after he and wife Catrin had their first of three children - and that’s when Marks started to build on his earlier foundations.

He coached at Llangadog RFC before becoming the WRU Hub Officer at Ysgol Bro Dinefwr, a role he still holds.

“At first the main focus was increasing participation of both boys and girls,” he recalled.

“But then it became more about providing opportunities, running festivals in primary and secondary schools and also helping teachers by giving them the confidence to deliver rugby.”

The role crosses over into the community game too, with Marks offering advice to club coaches and working with sides like Llandovery, Llandybie, and Llandeilo.

And throughout, his own personal foray into coaching has developed.

He joined the staff at Carmarthen Quins and coached alongside current Scarlets forwards’ guru Richard Kelly, and helped bring through the likes of Josh Helps and Will Boyd who went on to play regional rugby. Strangely for him, also at the club at the time was now Milford Haven coach Nathan ‘Gully’ Williams, who was winding down his own playing career.

“I’d played a lot with Gully at Llandovery College and Llanelli and coaching one of the boys was weird.

“But it was a good experience at the Quins and it gave me a great insight on coaching quality players. But after a while I wanted to put my own stamp on a club as head coach.”

And that he did after a phone call from Derek Thomas at Nantgaredig.

Success followed. The club won the West Wales Plate and in the 2018/19 campaign, were promoted from Division Three West B as undefeated league champions. There was also National Bowl semi final heartbreak, a newly established second team, and before the coronavirus pandemic halted all things grassroots, the club were firmly established as a force in Division Two West.

Marks has recently relinquished his role to pursue other ambitions, namely his second season as coach of the Scarlets 18s, but says fond memories of Nant will always remain.

Thus far Daniel Davis (Scarlets), Corey Baldwin (Exeter Chiefs), Iestyn Rees (Wales U20), Harri Doel (Wales U20), Aaron Hemmings (Wales U20), Dafydd Land (Scarlets Academy), Angharad De Smet (Wales Women), and Maisie Mackenzie (Wales U18) are among players he’s helped develop. He has also mentored and coached Stephen Varney ahead of his move to Hartpury College – and the youngster is currently making waves with Gloucester RFC and Italy Under 20s.

None of the above have come about by accident. Now 36, Marks has seen ample change in rugby union and his insight and willingness to adapt reflects that.

“Children play at an earlier age now so by secondary school, their knowledge of the game is often brilliant.

“Participation and good coaching is so important but clubs need to have an open mindset to evolve junior sections. You have to get families involved.”

And what of the modern day perception that the game is more muscle than finesse, that the emphasis is more on power than perfecting skills?

“Rugby is a game of movement",” said Marks, conclusively.

“It’s about how you break the game down and create space. Some matches have up to 200 rucks now – for me a ruck is a failure because it means you’ve not moved a defender.

“The last 10-15 years all some people want to work on is defence and keeping teams out, but now you can see more emphasis on passing, running, and even kicking coming back in.

“It’s about unlocking defences. The cross field kick is now used as an attacking weapon to break a team down.”

And when overseeing a team, Marks has four main principles of coaching he focuses on – and an important fifth one on the side.

“I think you can split the game into four components – physical, technical, tactical, and mental.

“Physically I believe Welsh rugby has it sorted. Technically things are improving although I think coaching on kicking needs more work.

“But tactically we must improve. Not enough players grow up with an understanding of how to play certain situations.

“And as for the mental side, that’s the big one. I think there is a lot that remains undiscovered and we need to work on it in Wales. It’s so important in rugby and in fact, all sport.

“But we must not forget the social aspect as well. If I’m a young player and I can’t express myself or feel comfortable in a squad, then chances are I will struggle in a professional setting.”

As mentioned, Marks isn’t afraid to seek advice. From his lockdown conversations, it was the one with Lancaster that resonated most.

“I’ve always liked his attacking mindset and he has an excellent tactical understanding of the game. Nigel Redman too, he now works with British Swimming and I spoke with him about how to prepare athletes for gold medals.

“It’s always helped me to ask others with experience. Not enough coaches seek advice when they need it.”

Given what you’ve read already, you’d have gauged that coaching rugby is more than hobby for Marks. He has goals that you wouldn’t bet against him attaining.

“I want to become a professional coach and the ultimate would to be a head coach. I like leading players and trying to empower them but the test would be doing that at the highest level.”

A lot of negativity seems to surround Welsh rugby. In light of that, it’s refreshing to hear a young coach with genuine ambition to progress and move things forward.

Following him as a coach certainly differs from training with him as a player though.

Because this time around I, and many others, can see him coming…..