Tomorrow will be our sixth game of the 2021/22 Gallagher Premiership season and the home fixture where we mark Remembrance Day.
When you travel to the Rec to support your club as passionately as ever, I know you will be hungry for a winning performance. Every one of us at the club shares that hunger. I also know that you will have questions, that you will want to know the reasons for our results so far this season, and what we are doing to turn around performances.
Over our first five games there is a consistent theme that our platform to our game - our set piece, discipline and defence – has not been good enough. This is currently compounded by the availability of our squad - half our squad are unavailable this weekend due to injury and international duty, albeit a number of players will be available to return to action imminently.
At the same time, we have seen excellent coming-of-age performances from a number of our homegrown players like Orlando Bailey and Max Ojomoh. We have also seen the clear emergence of our new attacking style allowing us to create opportunities through clean breaks, offloads and defenders beaten.
What we haven’t seen is a consistent winning performance built on the foundation of a solid platform and, as we approach Round 7 of the 2021/22 Gallagher Premiership, the reality is that we stand 13th in the table.
Each week we review the immediate-term reasons for our results in the context of both the game and training week, and the game block. As standard, at the end of each block of games we review what we do in greater depth. In the context of our current standing, our review process must look different.
After Round 8 of the Premiership we have two weeks of Premiership Cup rugby, including one bye week without a game, before the Premiership recommences with Round 9 at the end of November. We will use this pause in the Premiership to analyse what we do and scrutinise each component part.
We will examine the key areas of our game, our training and preparation to identify how we can deliver a consistent platform, whilst also continuing to create scoring opportunities and converting them.
We will appraise each part of what we do including player availability, and we will work with world-leading external experts where appropriate such as Sports Surgery Clinic - based in Dublin - to assess if there is anything further we can do to mitigate the risk of ACL injuries which have such a catastrophic impact on players and the squad.
At the same time it is important that we stand back and assess how all of these component parts fit together. The aggregation of these parts is our ‘system’ – what we do, how we do it, and how we bring it all together. We want a system which is delivering winning performances, and which supports our ambition to compete consistently for Premiership and European honours.
In order to make the most of this review period, to challenge ourselves and maximise our learning, we are bringing in some external perspective. Ed Griffiths is consulting to us in a short-term advisory role. Ed has previously held senior roles as Chief Executive at Saracens and the South African Rugby Union, and over thirty years he has held a number of senior roles and consulted to professional sports organisations in rugby and other sports. Importantly he has been fundamental in building winning systems.
Ed will work with me, Stuart, our coaches and Performance department Heads to provide perspective on what we are doing, how we work, what is working well and what we can focus on improving.
Where we are today sits in the context of our long-term plan. We have achieved some successes. We have now achieved a core of 50% home-grown talent within our squad, and our pathway is thriving one year ahead of our planned target.
Josh Bayliss and Miles Reid are evidence of this. Players who in 2018 were emerging and have now earned recognition from the international game. This season you have also witnessed the potential of Orlando Bailey, Max Ojomoh and Tom de Glanville to name just a few of our developing players.
This next few weeks is an important opportunity to challenge ourselves in terms of what we are doing, to double down on what is good, and be crystal clear on what needs to improve and how we make those improvements.
We have an outstanding group of staff and players at the Club who will not shy away from the questions that we need to answer. We are also incredibly lucky to have passionate and ardent support from Bruce, providing us with the stability to focus on our system – to deliver winning performances here and now this season, whilst also supporting our long-term vision for sustained success.
I will continue to be transparent following our review process and we will share the headlines which emerge in due course. In the meantime, I must reiterate that delivering a winning performance here and now is our priority and that is our focus against Wasps.
Thank you for your continued support. I look forward to seeing you at the Rec tomorrow.