There has been a lot of discussion and speculation in the press regarding Premiership coaches and their futures following changes last season, and more recently in the current season. We at Bath have experienced more than our fair share of change in the past. This may explain some of the nonsense which had been whispered and printed in recent weeks regarding our management team and specifically Todd. Regardless of the reasons, it feels that now is the time to communicate with you regarding our long-term plans.
I would like to start by saying we are not in transition. We have the component parts to win, and on our day we back ourselves to compete with anyone. We have fantastic people working at the Club and we have unbelievable resources. Our growth is to perform as more than the sum of our parts, and to do so consistently.
In order to do so we believe in nurturing an environment with the right mix of stability, challenge and support. This is our long term plan – building a system around a core of exceptional people who care deeply about the Club; a system which drives continual growth and development, which accommodates change as part of that evolution, but learning the lessons of the past and avoiding the type of seismic change we believe would only set us back.
LEADERSHIP OF OUR RUGBY DEPARTMENT
There are several strands to this journey. Let me start at the top. In addition to overall responsibility for matchday performances, Todd’s objectives since arriving have been to reconnect the players to the Club and the community, to help enhance the focus on our internal player pathway, to help in the definition of how we want to play, and to build a longer term legacy around the department and his eventual successor.
This work continues, and we can confirm the extension of Todd’s contract by one year to June 2020, a point in time when Todd and Priscilla may be ready for the next stage of their journey, and the Club for the next step in its evolution. There is the opportunity for a further extension beyond this point, a decision Todd and the Club will make together at the appropriate time. It is a mark of Todd’s unique character, rare among coaches, that we are able to hold such discussions openly and to make decisions together for the best of Todd, his family, and the Club.
Todd has committed that he will move on when the Club is ready. That readiness will be predicated on our next step, which will be when Stuart Hooper proves his readiness to take on the leadership of our Rugby Department.
Why Stuart Hooper? Stuart has outstanding leadership qualities and tremendous integrity, but also the willingness to be challenged, an unbelievable work ethic, a strategic mind-set, and the ability to get the best out of people. He also cares very deeply about the Club, the players and staff, and the wider community. Does Stuart have more to learn? Definitely. Can he lead the department in two years? Absolutely.
Every step we take is focused on delivering performances today, whilst also nurturing the growth and development of our people and the Club for the future. Part of Todd’s role, in addition to delivering weekly performances, is in developing Stuart for the future. In that respect every day is an opportunity for Stuart to learn from Todd, and work with him to grow our performances. We are also investing in expert resource to support Stuart’s development, and have looked externally where young home-grown men have taken over the leadership of rugby departments at Exeter and Leinster; we are spending time with these organisations to learn from them.
In terms of the here and now, we can confirm Stuart’s role of General Manager for the 2018/19 season, a role he commenced ahead of pre-season, and which builds on the work he has been doing within the coaching group, the rugby performance departments and overseeing the player development pathway since he retired from playing in April 2016. Stuart will be reporting directly to Todd, supporting Todd in his role leading the department. Stuart’s role includes working with Todd on the clear definition of the Rugby Plan, and converting the overall vision for how we want to play the game into a framework for season block, weekly, daily and ultimately session plans, empowering the coaches to align their planning of daily sessions with the overall vision for our game.
Stuart is also supporting Todd and myself in terms of developing the long term recruitment plan looking ahead to 2023 and beyond, weaving in the expectations for our internal player pathway as well as looking externally for new talent. This role frees up Todd to focus on leading the department, the relationships within the department and among players, and also provides an exceptional learning and development opportunity for Stuart.
We want to play smart attacking rugby, whilst also developing our own unique style. We want to develop a squad with a core of home-grown talent, interspersed with world-class players. We want to build our culture and consistently perform as more than the sum of our parts. We want to foster a genuine learning environment driving continual challenge and improvement.
The partnership between Todd and Stuart will bring detail to the vision around these objectives, whilst ensuring continued focus on the week-to-week performances throughout the current season and beyond.
THE COACHING GROUP
I mentioned earlier that we are building a system which accommodates change, and in this respect I can confirm that Toby Booth and Darren Edwards will not be continuing beyond the term of their current contracts which expire at the end of this season. Toby and Darren have both played a massive part in the Club’s journey, by the end of this season Toby’s tenure will have been seven years and Darren’s five years. They have been fantastically loyal to the Club and have provided critical stability through periods of change; they carried us through the 2016/17 pre-season before Todd arrived, and have helped drive us to Anglo-Welsh, Challenge Cup and Premiership Finals.
Developing people to perform to the best of their ability is the hallmark of an effective coach. The recent dominant performances of our forwards and the achievements for Club and Country of players such as Charlie Ewels, Tom Dunn, Elliott Stooke, Beno Obano, Sam Underhill, Tom Ellis, Henry Thomas and Captain Matt Garvey are testament to the inherent value Toby in particular has brought to our environment. Darren has driven the development of our backs, with major influence on developing players such as Semesa Rokoduguni to International rugby and guiding Anthony Watson through England and Lions honours. He will continue this season to nurture the exciting new talent of Joe Cokanasiga.
As we embark on the next stage in our development Toby, Darren and the Club have determined that now is the opportunity for them to take on new challenges, and for the Club to bring in fresh voices, new experiences and different ideas. This is both to support the growth of our game and to build on the foundations they have laid as we continue to evolve.
Toby and Darren have poured their hearts and souls into the Club. We all give massive thanks to them for their hard work, commitment, passion, dedication and loyalty for the Club which will be celebrated appropriately. They also have a huge part to play in the current campaign driving us towards our season goals.
In terms of our coaching group, Girvan’s appointment this season was part of the longer term plan for developing our own identity around smart attacking rugby. He brings exceptional coaching pedigree, together with fantastic experience and intellectual property from his time at Leinster. He also has the opportunity and responsibility to continue to develop not just as a coach but also his wider skill-set, and this is something we will work on with him as he develops in his senior coaching role with the Club.
The coach and player development pathway internally within the club is something we have reason to be proud of. We have passionate and high potential individuals that exist within, and the work led by Andy Rock since he joined in 2016 has helped us to develop a much clearer framework for nurturing talent to the level we need and expect for our 1st XV environment. This applies equally to coaching and other staff positions as it does to the playing squad.
Ryan Davis has shown exceptional promise as a coach, and we are considering developing his role as a 1st XV coach for the 2019/20 season onwards, serving as an apprentice coach supporting Girvan within the coaching programme with a particular focus on backs and attack. Mark Lilley, another exceptionally promising home-grown coach, will continue to focus on our pathway players and on providing support to the 1st XV forwards, which is recognition of his emerging potential as a specialist scrum coach.
We will be recruiting additional coaching resource ahead of the 2019/20 season, with an additional senior and a more junior coach to build on the strong foundations already in place as we look to nurture an exceptional coaching group which will be embedded throughout the 2019/20 season with the oversight and leadership of Todd.
OUR GAME AND OUR PLAYING SQUAD
We have a fantastic playing squad who are deeply committed to the Club and everything we want to achieve here. We continue to focus on deepening the connections between players, Club and community.
There has been a significant piece of work heading into the current season regarding game understanding and what we believe is important. This includes refining our common language for how we talk about the game (our game model), and clarifying the attributes which are important individually and collectively for our squad, both on and off the pitch.
This work provides a framework around which we can work to develop our players, to develop their game understanding, to develop their leadership capabilities both on and off the pitch. It also supports our recruitment and player pathway development processes.
Our ambition is to develop a core of at least 50% home-grown talent by 2022/23 interspersed with world-class players. We are committed to investment in our squad, whilst also ensuring we spend every pound wisely. In this respect the work of Pierre Broncan in scouting new and undiscovered talent is a critical part of our long-term recruitment strategy. Pierre is also a valuable resource in terms of his focus on strategic analysis providing insight into broader game trends; furthermore he provides an expert view on where opposition teams will exert pressure, working closely with Todd and Girvan to develop tactical game sense through detailed opposition analysis, and looking at how best to exploit opposition weaknesses.
By investing time and thought in our framework for talking and thinking about the game, by investing in the depth of thought underpinning what we do, by challenging our players and staff in terms of our expectations of them within the type of learning environment we wish to create, we believe we can build the individual and collective intelligence which will underpin everything we want to achieve.
In terms of our squad, I note that we have recently announced a number of contract extensions with key players and we look forward to making further announcements in the coming weeks.
GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT OF OUR PEOPLE
One of the lessons learned from the trip to New Zealand when we initially recruited Todd, was the emphasis placed on continual growth and development. The centralised system provides for performance and development resources which cover the franchises and the national team. There is no equivalent system in England, but it is our belief that the continual pursuit of development should be at the core of our system.
Andy Rock has done a fantastic job developing our player pathway over the last two years, and some of his work has been recognised by the RFU and PRL as world-leading. We look forward to seeing the fruits of his labour as we strive to develop a team comprising 50% home-grown players by 2022/23.
Andy is a development professional: a trained coach with 13 years’ experience of practical coaching, a trained teacher, and co-founder of the Carnegie Adolescent Rugby Research Group which has appointed multiple PhD-applied research and senior research fellowship roles. We will continue to benefit from Andy’s oversight of our Academy, however, we have the opportunity to both broaden his skill-set and to benefit more widely from his developmental expertise by evolving his role over this season and next into Performance Director, and recruiting a Junior Academy Manager to support him in the continuing development of exciting young talent.
In this respect Andy will work with the coaching group and other rugby department management to drive their personal and collective development, to drive them in finding new opportunities to improve their practices, and to challenge their thinking and approach. Importantly his role will involve working across departments to help deliver a truly multi-disciplinary programme encouraging all players and staff to develop.
With inconsistent results often come questions, and some of those have been directed at the environment. Are there things we need to improve? Absolutely, and we are working on this together. Importantly this is being facilitated by Katie Warriner, our recently appointed Sports Psychologist and Mental Skills Coach, in terms of managing the types of discussions which will drive a deep understanding and alignment between everyone at the Club. There is a deep desire from everyone at the Club to be part of something exceptional, to be part of something that we are all proud of, including you our loyal supporters. Katie will play an invaluable role in harnessing that desire and enhancing our environment.
Myself, Todd, the players and staff at the Club are lucky to have huge support from Bruce. His vision for rugby reaches far. He dedicates significant time and care to the sport, to the opportunities for effecting positive change and his contribution at every level of the game is significant. At Bath we would not have the opportunities before us without his ardent support for everything we do, his insight, and his belief in our plans for the future. His vision for the Club and the role it can play in the heart of Bath underpin us, the plans we set and the actions we take.
Everyone at the Club realises how lucky we are, with your incredible support, the amazing resources at our disposal, and the unique opportunities before us. We recognise how much hard work there is ahead, and we embrace that challenge.
We want to play smart, attacking, but also uncompromising rugby; we want to develop our own unique style. We want to develop a squad with a core of home-grown talent, interspersed with world-class players. We want to build our culture and consistently perform as more than the sum of our parts. We want to foster a genuine learning environment driving continual challenge and improvement.
By setting out a long term plan and framework, we believe that we are providing ourselves with the best chance for the future, whilst not dampening our commitment to performances today.
Thank you for your loyal and passionate support for the Club, we look forward to the opportunity to discuss these plans further with you.