Dear Season Ticket Holders,
A very warm welcome to the 18/19 Gallagher Premiership. We are delighted to welcome you all back to the Rec today for our first home game against local rivals Gloucester.
Full credit to Bristol for their performance last Friday and for selling out Ashton Gate which no doubt had an impact on their performance. However, we did not deliver the performance we should have done in some of the key areas of focus through pre-season in relation to our attack, defence and forwards play. Everyone has been very focused this week on addressing that. Today’s derby game against Gloucester in front of a passionate home crowd packed into the Rec will be a massive driver for the type of performance we all want to see, the seeds of which were visible in our pre-season game and seven-try win against Scarlets a fortnight ago.
We have 21 league matches ahead of us, we expect a strong finish in the Gallagher Premiership and we are excited about the challenges we will face in the first rounds of the Champions Cup against the likes of reigning champions Leinster, Toulouse and Wasps. First and foremost we are focused on delivering the right performances at home in front of you with the backing of your passionate and loyal support, and if we get that right those home games will provide the platform and backbone to our achievements this season.
Our squad has been complemented this season with the addition of Jamie Roberts, Jackson Willison and Joe Cokanasiga who have already shown us the impact they will have on our game, and also Will Chudley who we expect to see on the pitch shortly and who will also have a significant positive impact both on and off the pitch. Ruaridh McConnochie and Alex Davies also both made their debuts for Bath United last weekend, and I am looking forward to watching both of these players over the coming months. We have also benefitted from the return of players including Dave Attwood and Semesa Rokodoguni who played limited games for us last season primarily through injury, but will contribute significantly to the physicality and power of our playing group.
In other news, we are delighted that Zach Mercer has signed a two-year extension with the Club. Zach works incredibly hard at all the aspects of his game and last season made his debut for England against the Barbarians. His hard work combined with his raw talent has paid dividends and we believe he has all the attributes to become a world-class player. We are proud that he has progressed through our Academy programme into the first team ranks and that he sees Bath as the right place for him to grow and develop further to realise his international ambitions.
We are building our team around a core of passionate young men with a deep connection to their Club and their community. By layering in world-class talent and leadership with players who can not only deliver world-class performances but also mentor our home-grown players, we will build a powerful squad proposition for both the present and the future.
The development of future talent is being driven by Andy Rock who has put in place strong local school and university partnerships. Importantly the programme places a heavy focus on the development of leadership and broader human skills which we believe are critical to nurturing talent capable of delivering at the highest standards of performance, and which we believe will furnish these young men with the capability to achieve great things throughout their rugby careers and beyond.
As we continue to develop the strength of the talent pathway we enhance our predictive capability around young players in the system, and this is now becoming central to our long term recruitment planning. Where historically the opportunities for young emerging players have been accelerated by instances of injury within the First XV squad, we are now in a position to proactively plan the long term evolution of our squad around our home grown talent, which is an exciting prospect for the future of the Club.
I communicated to you at the end of last season the areas of investment we required in our support structures around coaching, mental and leadership skills, and medical support. You will of course know that we were delighted to welcome Girvan Dempsey as Attack Coach for the start of pre-season, fresh from European and Pro14 success at Leinster. The appointment followed an extensive search which was not limited to the Northern Hemisphere, and Girvan provides an excellent addition to the coaching team. In addition we have expanded Stuart Hooper’s role to support Todd directly in the detailed planning and organization of the preparation and training programmes, aligned to the overall objectives for the season, thereby freeing Todd to focus on leading the department. These changes have enabled an enhanced focus for everyone in the coaching group on their specific areas of responsibility.
We were also delighted to welcome Katie Warriner as our Head of Mental Skills & Leadership during pre-season. Katie is working in particular with our coaching and playing group to develop the less visible but absolutely critical mental and emotional performance drivers of preparation and game outcomes, at both an individual and a collective level. Whilst we had been conducting a search throughout 2017/18, we identified Katie early and were delighted to be able to secure her services for this season and beyond.
You will all be very aware that 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. We therefore decided to bring a fresh perspective to this area of our resource. The appointment of Byron Field, our 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.
Byron will be responsible for ensuring all players are given the most effective medical care, both when they are fit and when they are returning from injury. He has relocated to the UK from Australia to join us for 2018/19 campaign, so we’d like to extend a warm welcome to him.
We also continue to make progress with the new stadium to secure the Club’s future in the heart of our city. We intend to publicly consult again in the Autumn on our detailed designs and following that we intend to submit a final design and planning application before Christmas to be determined in 2019. Thank you to those of you that took the time to visit our initial concept design consultation at the end of July – there was an overwhelmingly positive response and we are in the process of reviewing all feedback received. If you didn’t get a change to look at these please head over to stadiumforbath.com as it’s all still available online.
The various elements and constraints impacting this project provide significant complexity and challenge, however the prize is a brilliant new home for Bath Rugby in the heart of Bath. This is the prize we are fighting for and which we believe we will achieve. There is an excellent and hugely committed project team who are passionate about everything this project can achieve for both the Club and the wider community, and I extend huge thanks to all of them for their continued hard work. I also extend thanks to the Season Ticket Holders and supporters, including our accessibility group, who sit in the Supporters Steering Group and who have been helping us shape the emerging designs. As we move into the detailed design phase we look forward to sharing the details around the supporter experience at the core of the designs, along with further details about the emerging riverside experience and how we intend to use the East Stand to deliver long-lasting community benefits in Bath.
Finally, thank you again for your passionate and loyal support. We have a record-breaking number of Season Ticket Holders this year, and we are full of excitement and anticipation for the campaign ahead.
See you this afternoon where we look forward to a great game of rugby against Gloucester.