Firstly, I’d like to thank you all for your loyal support throughout the 2017/18 season.
We started the campaign strongly with our first victory in 14 years at Welford Road, which was soon followed by another big performance against Saracens at the Rec a week later. Unfortunately, we were not able to deliver the consistency required at this level, which was disappointing and frustrating for everyone at the Club.
Whilst we showed that we can compete with the best in Europe with our victories away at Scarlets and then back at the Rec before Christmas against Toulon, we also lost games that we should have won, particularly games at the Rec in front of a full house of passionate supporters. Thankfully, our form in the closing weeks secured us Champions Cup rugby for next season with a couple of great results away to Gloucester and at home to Irish.
We possess an abundance of riches in terms of our squad, our coaching and support staff, passionate and loyal support, a proud heritage of success, and the opportunity to play our games in the heart of a rugby city. Everyone at the Club has a deep desire to win.
Whilst the players have the opportunity for a few weeks of rest before pre-season begins, management are working hard reviewing the season that was, and putting in place the plans for 2018/19. Significant thought and analysis is being given into what made certain teams successful, and what trends may emerge for 2018/19 in terms of how the game is played and refereed, to provide the best possible context for our pre-season planning and preparation.
During the 2017/18 season themes emerged around our attack, injuries and psychology and we also see opportunities in terms of scouting new talent. We have invested significant time and effort in determining how best to respond in each of these areas. The appointment of any member of staff is an important one, particularly in a close knit team environment and where long-term contracts are standard.
You will have seen the recent announcement regarding the appointment of Girvan Dempsey as Attack Coach, fresh from his coaching role at Leinster and Champions Cup success. Todd, Stuart and myself have spent significant time with Girvan ensuring the fit feels right for Bath; and importantly that it also feels right for Girvan, his wife and young boys. Girvan thinks deeply about the game, he also demonstrates fantastic abilities as a practitioner of coaching, he has experience of what it takes to win both as a player and as a coach, and he brings excellent knowledge having worked with the likes of Joe Schmidt, Michael Cheika and Stuart Lancaster. We warmly welcome Girvan and his family ahead of the pre-season.
We are also delighted to welcome Pierre Broncan and his family to Bath from Toulouse where Pierre has held the role of Head of Recruitment for the last three seasons along with coaching responsibilities for attack and defence. We believe that there is increasing value and opportunity in the scouting of playing talent, an area we have not fully exploited. Pierre is highly-regarded in the sport for his reputation of seeking out raw talent at an early stage from both the amateur and professional game. The addition of Victor Delmas to our front row ahead of next season is thanks to Pierre. He also brings excellent coaching and analysis experience. Pierre’s role will include scouting young and new talent in England and other territories as we look to expand our squad within the constraints of the Salary Cap, strategic analysis around game trends, and involvement in the coaching and preparation of our pathway developmental teams enabling Stuart Hooper to focus on our senior squad.
The nature of the game, the collisions, and ball-in-play time have led to injuries becoming an ever more significant part of the sport and due to this we have decided to bring a fresh perspective to this area of our resource. The appointment of a new Head of Medical and Rehabilitation forms part of our strategy to further develop rigour and evidence-based practices not only around our return to play processes but also our approach to the squad when they are fit and well.
We are also focused on appointing a dedicated sports psychologist to provide support for players as individuals, for the players collectively, and to the coaching and support staff in terms of the messaging and transference capabilities.
We will share more information regarding these appointments in the near future, both of which will support us to deliver against the Rugby Plan which the coaching staff are working hard to put in place ahead of the new season.
You will see from Todd’s note that the 2018/19 season will benefit from some exciting recruitment and the return of several long-term injured key players. We are also very excited by the work of Andy Rock and everyone in the Academy team in terms of our player pathway and the pipeline of emerging talent that is being developed. It is our stated ambition that we want a minimum of 50% home-grown talent in our First Team squad. We believe that by building our team around a core of passionate young men with a deep connection to their club and their community, that by layering in world-class talent in key positions with players who can not only deliver world-class performances but also mentor our home-grown players, we can build a very powerful squad proposition for years to come.
I am acutely aware that Friday night games have been a key consideration for many of you. Our stated and clear preference for games is Saturday afternoons. In a typical season an average of six games will be moved from Saturdays. I have had robust discussions on this topic with Premiership Rugby and I would like to make the following points:
You will see that we are looking forward to the third year of the Clash in 2018/19. This fixture provides one day in the calendar which opens club rugby and Bath Rugby to a significantly wider audience, provides an inspiring opportunity for hundreds of children to play rugby on the Twickenham turf, and raises significant sums for our Foundation. We will continue to offer a refund of the relevant portion of your season ticket for those of you who are unable to attend.
Off the pitch, we've made great strides with the new stadium and to secure the Club’s future in the heart of our city. We look forward to sharing emerging designs with you in the near future. It is our intention that the new stadium is a brilliant new home for Bath Rugby that you are all proud of, and that it contributes to amateur sporting participation and a broader community legacy. We continue to work closely with the Supporter Steering Group as part of the design process, and we thank them for the time and commitment they have given to the project. We intend to submit a final design for planning approval before the end of the year and we will be consulting with you and the city throughout this process.
Thank you for your passionate and loyal support. We hope that you will join us for the 2018/19 season.