Director of Rugby Stuart Hooper addressed the media ahead of Friday’s clash against Sale Sharks.
The two sides face-off at the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday night in Round 9 of the Gallagher Premiership. Here is what Hooper had to say ahead of the match…
Reflections on Harlequins
My first point is there was a huge amount in the game that moved us on from where we were the week before. Quins was a very different proposition from the start. There was a significant number of our senior squad unavailable for selection meaning we had quite a few young players coming in and playing.
There was a lot that I saw in the second half that made me feel very positive about the group and how they came together. For some of those young guys it was a massive step up and I thought the application and the effort they put in was outstanding and to have a taste of Premiership rugby at that age is great. Ultimately, we didn’t get the result and that needs to change.
Health wise we’ve come through all the COVID-19 tests well today, we’re still on two tests a week so the next set of results are due tomorrow (Thursday). This week is a much better picture selection wise, with a few boys coming back from knocks that were unavailable last week.
On morale in the squad
Morale today is really good and it's important to understand the psyche of the group. That’s what we do as staff, coaches, and senior players, we get amongst the boys and whenever there’s a week where you don’t get the performance that you want, and ultimately the result that you want, you’ve got to go around, and you’ve got to put things right.
But you’ve also got to build people up, get some confidence in the lads and you’ve got to get things moving again because ultimately there’s another game.
And this week it’s a Friday, it's away in Manchester and it’s going to be cold! So, you can’t be feeling sorry for yourselves, you’ve got to pick yourself up and go again. And this week the boys are good, energy is high and they are looking forward to getting back out there.
You can’t build a team on guaranteeing people starts and there’s different reasons why people would start or would not start, but that has to remain consistent. There also needs to be an aspirational route to the first team for our younger players.
If you look at the back end of last year, yes, there’s those names like Tom de Glanville and Cam who got starts and got stuck in there, but there are also guys like Miles and Josh who you know have quickly become invaluable to us because of opportunities they’ve had and equally, with these guys, they need to perform every time they play because there other people wanting to get in.
Like we see Ethan starting on the flank last weekend, Bath’s youngest ever premiership player, and know he’s had a taste of premiership rugby and he wants to keep going so that’s what we want, we want it to be aspirational and anybody, whether you’ve got 60-70 caps for your country or one cap for Bath, knows they’re in the mix and in contention to be picked.
On Six Nations
Obviously the squad’s put together strategically and when I was first looking at the 21/22 season it was back in 18/19, so no-one could have foreseen the problems with COVID-19 and how that would affect the season, so I think the crossovers from international rugby went from 4 or 5 to 11, so yes, there’s a big difference.
When we took the field at the weekend against Quins, there were 14 people unavailable, whether that was through injury, illness or international duty, and that’s a decent number of players and that’s players who would be in the 23.
I’ve always made a point internally of focusing on the lads who are on the field because they have an opportunity and they’ve earned that, whether it be from people being injured or whatever, they’re in the mix and they’re training hard, so yes, it was always going to be a tough period. But, as I’ve said from the weekend, I was proud of parts of what the boys did, and they were too, so we're looking to build on that this weekend.
We’ve done a lot of work on defence and it is something that Hats takes a lot of pride in and obviously, he’s been disappointed in the results there, we all have.
We worked on a few bits going into the game at the weekend, early on we still conceded a few soft tries - we conceded three tries -but then, when we went down to 13-men we didn’t concede any points.
The lads worked hard for each other, and there was a moment when they realised that the system we have in defence is the way to shut teams out versus trying to solve things on our own, so I think there were some good moments of learning in that game, as well as the pain of conceding three tries.
On Sale SHARKS
I think in the two games that they’ve had with Alex Sanderson; you can see where he’s focusing his attention. They’ve built a good squad over time and they’re not too badly hampered by international call ups, barring Tom Curry, so they’re a decent side.
They’ve built their work around defence; they don’t spend a huge amount of time attacking with the ball. Against Bristol you saw that they have the capacity to put you under pressure and get turnovers and score.
We’ll always approach every game wanting to go into it and win. For us as a group, we need to build on that togetherness we showed in the second half against Harlequins and we need to keep reminding each other that when we are together, when we stick to what we are practicing, when we stick to doing what we have said we will do players to players, it's enjoyable and we can get results.
So, we’ll be looking, of course, to go up there to win. How we do that is building on that togetherness we showed at the back end of the Quins game.