It was a matter of hours after Richard Hill was sacked, that former Gloucester Coach, Dean Ryan, had taken over the somewhat hopeless head post at Sixways. Worcester, in typical fashion, had another underwhelming, underachieving season in the Premiership and had a certain Mike Scott to thank for their avoidance of relegation. A Warriors supporter myself, I have been accustomed to shabby performances, ‘past-it’ signings and a general lugubrious atmosphere on a Saturday afternoon. Let’s be honest, it appears that they have mastered the art of being consistently bad, and now the time seems right for fortunes to change, and numerous losses to turn into dramatic wins.
Worcester’s top Premiership finish came about in their first season after battling to promotion and since then it’s been a bit of a damp squib. A club who continues to have a quality Mini/Junior section, an executive stadium, tremendous training facilities and a loyal fan base to go with it, it really does seem that success is the only real end result. With teams like Northampton, Harlequins and Exeter especially, being able to become consistent top 6 finishers since their time in the Championship, Warriors fans are becoming irritable.
Looking at Exeter as the most recently promoted side, Rob Baxter has managed to find the perfect formula to achieve Heineken Cup qualification, victories against top sides and be able to succeed without ‘big name’ players. Contrastingly, people like Ruddock and Hill have recruited strangely, and perhaps, caused rifts and issues throughout the team which, resultantly, have led to years of heartbreak and aggravating rugby. What’s more frustrating, which has been voiced by both Chairman, Cecil Duckworth OBE, and supporters, is the continued loss of top youngsters who have worked their way up through the Academy system. Players like; Tom Wood, Matt Mullan and Matt Kvesic. You look at teams like Harlequins, who have 12, 13, 14 former academy players, consistently playing Premiership Rugby, and it doesn’t only reiterate the importance of nurturing your own talent, but creating a system that will allow for those players to remain at the club for the long term. Thankfully, Ryan has already stated that he wants to re-introduce the Academy set-up, to really push those talents coming through the EPDG and AASE schemes, like Andrew Boyce and Josh Watkins. He discussed how developing a model that will utilise developing players and endeavour to keep them at the club, is the best way forward. He also, and rightly so, exclaimed that Worcester are not even on the brink of Heineken Cup rugby, and for those optimistic fans, I’d suggest keeping such fantasies in check for the moment!
Now, as a diehard enthusiast, I always find it hard to criticise Worcester on a regular basis, and therefore, attentions should be turned to next season. For once, I feel that the change at the club is potentially a winning combination, however, time is the key. Dean Ryan is deemed to be one of the smartest men in rugby; former England International, Gloucester Head Coach and Interim Scotland Coach, alongside Johnson, he certainly has the credentials to take Worcester to new heights. His aptitude when analysing a team/individual, parallel to his strength to spot talent, for me, make him one of the top English and Northern Hemisphere coaches around. So, no pressure Dean, it’s not like us Worcester fans are growing slightly impatient…
Let’s loosen the grip on Ryan for a moment, and look at the new coaching team being assembled. A clean sweep of Hill’s coaching team has meant Worcester are short of a Forwards, Backs and Defence Coach, as well as an Academy Manager. The one nailed down coach, is the former London Wasps backs man, Shane Howarth. A Kiwi (good start), and ex- Auckland Assistant Coach, Howarth’s quality is underlined by the performance of Wasps back seven this season, with both Varndell and Wade as joint-top scorers, whilst Wade and Daly remain very much on the cusp of regular England Caps. Howarth will bring a new perspective to the ‘Ryan Revolution’ and, as a full timer, will be able to cultivate and manipulate an attacking game that should lead Worcester to at least a mid table finish! That certainly seemed an issue with Hill, the lack of consistency in coaching. Rourre, Larder and Vickery all contracted on a part time basis, didn’t exactly pay dividends on the pitch. In fact, it sort of seemed like every other week, defence would be solid, every other week we’d be creative and manipulate space in attack…you get the picture. Unfortunately, the fact that Worcester’s signings for next season were made by Hill, it would appear Ryan has been thrown in at the deep end. Yet, Dean Ryan exudes sense and positivity, and with that, most players could find it easy to his ambitions.
Possibly, the substantial weighting of next season’s successes or failures will be very much attributed to the players. A mix of International pedigree, youngsters and experienced heads, signings wise, Hill didn’t go too far wrong. It’s a mighty shame Richard Hill didn’t display this sort of recruitment work last year.
Signings so far:
Paul Andrew-(Cornish Pirates)
Ofa Fainga’anuku- (Glasgow Warriors)
Agustin Creevy- (Montpellier & Argentina)
Ignacio Mieres-(Exeter Chiefs & Argentina)
Leonardo Senatore-(RC Toulon & Argentina)
James Stephenson-(Bedford Blues)
Paul Warwick-(Stade Francais)
With the likes of Creevy and Senatore both on International duty for the 2013 Rugby Championship, Ryan may find himself with a little less ‘oomph’ in the pack. However, with Lock’s Jones and Percival, and Back Rowers like Sam Betty, Worcester still have a talented squad of players, who over recent seasons have shown their worth. Mieres, who dropped down to 3rd choice at Exeter this season, is a classy, clever player, who will endeavour to release the backs in attack and encourage an open, quick style of play. This comparison to Goode’s style, could, quite simply, be a massively influencing factor! Alongside young Stephenson, who has been on a try scoring roll for the last few seasons, on one wing and either Lemi or Drauniniu on the other, speed is not much of an issue.
Most crucially, they need to go back and really step-up Set Pieces. Worcester sides of old have been attritional, and what’s wrong with that?! They’ve had a solid Scrum, an enviable Lineout and could, back in the day, drive a Maul halfway up the pitch. With old, knowledgeable heads like Gllies, Murray and the Argentinean Sonny Bill, Agustin Creevy, the Set Piece has got to be the vital platform for Ryan to master first.
Currently, the Warriors have four pre-season matches, two against Championship opposition, the others against the Ospreys and Cardiff respectfully. With plenty of opportunity to mould a new team, imprint new tactics and grind out some good pre-season wins, Worcester supporters could finally start to see a quality outfit emerge.
2013-14 is panning out to be a tough, brutal and very competitive season. If the Falcons are promoted, the relegation battle next year is impossible to call. I look ahead to next season with a slither of caution, yet, a chunk of optimism and predict Worcester to win those close knit battles up front and snatch a few losses from the jaws of defeat. It would definitely make a nice change!
Good luck to Ryan and all those campaigning for Premiership glory!