A Letter from Tarquin McDonald


Thank you for your continued support throughout what can only be described as a frustrating season. We have not delivered consistent 1st XV performances during the current campaign, and our preparation for 2019/20 will focus on addressing that through each element of our planning and daily practice.

Details of our coaching structure have been announced this week. I can confirm that the Rugby department will be led by Stuart Hooper as Director of Rugby for the 2019/20 season and beyond.

A successful environment must encompass both high challenge and high support. Our system will be defined by the attributes and principles of the people driving it. Stuart will be exceptional in terms of driving our standards and the way we do things, the rigour we bring to the day-to-day, the ambition and expectations we have for each other.

In leading our rugby programme, Stuart Hooper will oversee two very experienced coaches alongside exciting emergent coaching talent.The construction of the coaching team for 2019/20 and beyond has been driven by a clear vision of the skills and experience required to drive the programme, including experience of winning environments, and by the synergy between the individuals who will work with Stuart to drive our performance. This sees Neal Hatley join the Club as Forwards and Defence Coach following England’s World Cup campaign this Autumn and Girvan Dempsey continuing to develop in his role of Attack and Backs Coach.

We are looking to provide additional resource with a particular focus on pre-season ahead of Neal joining the club.

Neal and Girvan will be joined by Luke Charteris who will embark on a new career with us as a specialist line-out coach. The addition of Luke provides a strong specialised element to the coaching team, and under the leadership of Stuart ensures a progressive set of skills and attributes, alongside the experience of Neal and Girvan, that will allow the coaching programme at the Club to advance with the objective of becoming world-leading.

Luke will continue to develop his coaching skills building on his formal qualifications and will be spending time in Super Rugby environments to hone his learning ahead of the pre-season.

Pathway coaches Ryan Davis and Mark Lilley will also progress their roles moving into 2019/20, placing more emphasis not only upon the support and development of the senior academy players in our 1st XV environment, but also adding significant coaching resource around our first team squad on a day-to-day basis. In this capacity, Ryan will support Girvan Dempsey on specific areas of attack and skills coaching; Mark Lilley will coach technical areas around the scrum and maul, supporting Neal Hatley and working with Luke Charteris.

Pierre-Henry Broncan continues in his role as Head of Strategic Analysis and Scouting. He will support the Rugby department through his work within analysis across the game, and through his insights into trends, tactics and team approaches and how this integrates into the planning and performance of our first team programme.

We are building a system based on four pillars: who we are, how we play, how we train, and how we develop. These four pillars are underpinned by a clear focus on our standards and developing a deep level of trust within the organisation and its people. We have an exceptional playing group and we want to equip them, develop them individually and collectively to deliver winning performances.

The matchday 80 minutes are a product of everything that informs the remaining 10,000 minutes in the week. Those minutes must be focused around the desired performance whether it be working on the game we want to play, or the way we feed and fuel our players for performance. We will always be judged on the 80 minutes each weekend, but the level of rigour that surrounds the design of the training programme and the way we can maximise the preparedness and readiness of our players through the further 10,000 minutes of each week, is what we believe will ultimately lead to more consistent performances and successful results.

I can confirm Andy Rock in the role of Performance Director, where he will lead an inter-disciplinary approach to programme design and will bring each function of the performance department together to optimally support the rugby programme, aligning all staff working within Sports Science, Strength and Conditioning, and Sports Medicine / Physiotherapy.

As Performance Director, Andy will report to Stuart Hooper and will work closely with the coaching team in the planning process to ensure that we maximise every minute of time on the training field, and to support the alignment of training approaches and training methods across departments to positively influence the way that we play.

Our Academy and Pathway system is now in a position of strength which we will continue to nurture. The appointment of Craig Lilley as Academy Manager will continue to build on the work of Andy Rock over the last three years as we continue to target a 50% homegrown squad by 2023. We are building a squad with a core of passionate homegrown men, combined with external recruits including world-class talent from which our emerging young players can learn and grow.

This year we celebrated seven pathway players being represented in the international squad for the England U18s Six Nations, the highest representation of any Premiership club. We also saw significant progress with highest ever finishes in the Premiership Rugby Academy Competition (3rd Place after missing out on the final by a bonus point try), BUCS Super Rugby Championship with our University partnership (semi-final), AASE Schools League with our Beechen Cliff School partnership (losing in the final to Hartpury). A core focus within our system will be maximising the number of players who mature into our 1st XV squad.

We are one Club. We brought in Katie Warriner as our Performance Psychologist this season with the specific remit of working with coaches, staff and players to develop a high-performance culture. Our culture is being built around shared attitudes, and a common set of values by which we will hold each other to account. This resource is a strategic investment and requires time to bear fruit. We will continue to invest in 2019/20 with additional resource around mental resilience and specific skills to help our squad manage key game instances which has been a challenge for us in the current season.

Over the coming months and ahead of the 2019/20 season we are constituting a Rugby Advisory Panel. This will comprise experienced, independent and trusted experts in the areas of leadership, culture and human development, sport science and coaching. The panel will act as critical friends to our rugby leadership team, acting as sources of both challenge and support.

Our squad next season will be bolstered by the likes of Josh McNally, Will Stuart, Lewis Boyce, Mike Williams and Christian Judge; all young, English qualified players who will provide added depth and physicality in the pack. Our game is based around creating and then exploiting momentum with our world-class backline. I have no doubt that our new squad members will make a significant impact on our game in 2019/20.

In addition, Semesa Rokoduguni, Joe Cokanasiga, Francois Louw, Sam Underhill, Nathan Catt, Taulupe Faletau, Zach Mercer, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Charlie Ewels, Elliott Stooke, Freddie Burns, Rhys Priestland, Beno Obano and Ruaridh McConnochie are all among those who will wear the Blue, Black and White shirt with pride next season.

It also makes me feel incredibly proud to see Miles Reid and Will Vaughan both graduating to our senior squad this year, both players have been in our pathway from age 13 and 14 respectively. We are also delighted to welcome four players from our pathway into our Senior Academy: Nahum Merigan, Gabe Hamer-Webb, Archie Griffin and Max Ojomoh; with more to follow in the coming weeks.

Our stadium project team are working incredibly hard to finalise the designs for the new stadium which will secure our future in the heart of our city. We intend to submit a final design for planning approval this summer and we will be exhibiting again very soon. Whilst we hope to progress swiftly through planning, I can confirm that construction would not commence until after the 2019/20 season and that the stadium project will not impact the facilities at the Rec next season.

On a practical note we have been looking at the flow of people in the West Stand particularly in the peak periods before the game and at half-time. Having considered ways in which this could be enhanced, we will be investing in a redesign of the male toilets to provide improved access and flow of people through each of the male toilet blocks in the West Stand which will have a knock-on benefit in the main concourse.

Thank you again for your support, we hope that you will join us for the 2019/20 season. 

Kind regards,