Pre­mier­ship looks to the fu­ture of coach­ing as clubs put faith in ris­ing ta­lent

Borth­wick and Hat­ley, who cut their teeth in the Eng­land set-up, faced off as Bath brushed aside Le­ices­ter 38-16 on Satur­day

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Rugby Union - By Char­lie Mor­gan

Neal Hat­ley has de­scribed Ed­die Jones’s method of de­vel­op­ing and ed­u­cat­ing coaches as a “catch and re­lease sys­tem”. The idea is that lieu­tenants un­der Jones spend a few years look­ing af­ter units in the Eng­land set-up be­fore tak­ing up more se­nior Pre­mier­ship club roles.

Paul Gus­tard was the first to spread his wings, join­ing Har­lequins as head of rugby af­ter the 2018 tour of South Africa. Hat­ley and then Steve Borth­wick fol­lowed sim­i­lar paths, on the back of the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Six Na­tions, re­spec­tively.

Jones watched from the Welford Road stands as his lat­ter pair of pro­teges pit­ted their wits against one an­other on Satur­day af­ter­noon. It proved to be more a case of “catch and kill”, with the power of Hat­ley’s Bath pound­ing Borth­wick’s Le­ices­ter Tigers 38-16.

Bath and Le­ices­ter are far from alone in plac­ing their faith in young, English coaches. Wasps backed Lee Black­ett to suc­ceed Dai Young; Glouces­ter brought in Ge­orge Skiv­ing­ton from Lon­don Ir­ish af­ter Jo­han Ack­er­mann left, with Dom Wal­douck, at only 32, ar­riv­ing as de­fence coach. Wal­douck is close to star player Danny Cipri­ani and counts John Fletcher, the for­mer Eng­land Un­der-18 supremo and one of the coun­try’s most pas­sion­ate coach de­vel­op­ers, as a men­tor.

Northamp­ton’s Chris Boyd is ea­ger for his back­room team to ex­pand their hori­zons. Sam Vesty went on the 2017 tour of Ar­gentina with Eng­land be­fore mov­ing to Saints. Scrum coach Matt Fer­gu­son came from Eng­land Women, while for­wards guru Phil Dow­son was sec­onded to the men’s team for last sum­mer’s Bar­bar­ians fix­ture.

Sup­port net­works are cru­cial for th­ese rookie coaches, and new jour­neys are be­gin­ning all the time. At a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate, there are some 50 first-team play­ers from across the Pre­mier­ship who coach lo­cal com­mu­nity clubs.

Bath alone have seven such play­ers (Ross Batty, Tom Dunn, Tom El­lis, Josh Matavesi, Zach Mercer, El­liott Stooke and Ge­orge Wor­boys) while Bris­tol Bears have five (Cal­lum Sheedy, Harry Ran­dall, Jake Arm­strong, Sam Bed­low and Yann Thomas).

Chunks of the squads at Har­lequins, Wasps and Sale also moon­light on touch­lines and train­ing evenings as well. Oc­ca­sion­ally, Pre­mier­ship team-mates will come up against one an­other in league fix­tures – a thrill for them and the grass-roots con­tes­tants.

While Kyle Sinck­ler was at Har­lequins, he helped out at Guild­ford with for­mer hooker Dave Ward. That duo would tus­sle with team­mate Nick Easter when their charges took on Wim­ble­don in the sixth tier of English rugby.

Hat­ley, a for­mer prop, would have en­joyed the fact that four of Bath’s six tries came from fron­trow­ers on Satur­day. But his ex­pe­ri­ence shone through when asked to out­line which ar­eas of the team per­for­mance had pleased him. Af­ter three years un­der Jones, Hat­ley’s stan­dards are high.

“I thought Cameron Redpath was re­ally good, Sam Un­der­hill as well,” he told BBC Bris­tol. “We got a lit­tle bit of im­pact off our bench and when Tigers kicked poorly, we looked to be pos­i­tive.

“But, to be per­fectly hon­est, the break­down was re­ally poor. We couldn’t get into a flow and then for that 20, 25 min­utes be­fore the end of the game, we couldn’t get out of our own 22.”

Borth­wick’s re­sources are not as strong as Hat­ley’s; the turnover at Tigers was al­ready go­ing to be sig­nif­i­cant be­fore the sum­mer pay dis­pute that caused five first-team play­ers to leave. Patch-up re­cruit­ment was com­pleted quickly, but many sign­ings re­main un­avail­able due to dif­fer­ent fac­tors.

It is im­por­tant to stress that Borth­wick, a tech­ni­cal stick­ler and su­perb strate­gist, is learn­ing, too. Hav­ing fi­nal say over se­lec­tion is an un­fa­mil­iar re­spon­si­bil­ity. Clearly pri­ori­tis­ing Wed­nes­day’s game against Lon­don Ir­ish, Le­ices­ter rested El­lis Genge, Ben Youngs and Ge­orge Ford at the week­end. Their start­ing side fea­tured 13 changes from the one who lost de­fi­antly against Ex­eter in round 14.

The run-on XV boasted a mea­gre ag­gre­gate of 262 Pre­mier­ship ap­pear­ances. Luke Wal­lace, vice­cap­tain in just his sec­ond out­ing for the club since ar­riv­ing from Har­lequins, ac­counted for 113 of those.

“It was a bit strange to be that much more ex­pe­ri­enced than the others,” Wal­lace said, who scored one of two tries that flat­tered Le­ices­ter as Bath’s per­for­mance grew scruffy.

Borth­wick is far too canny to be fooled by the late flour­ish. Look­ing on the bright side, he can spend the re­main­der of this cam­paign in­tro­duc­ing and as­sess­ing promis­ing young­sters, such as 19-year-olds Ge­orge Martin, im­pres­sive in the back row on Pre­mier­ship de­but against Bath, and full-back Freddie Stew­ard.

At 40, a decade younger than Hat­ley, Borth­wick has time to re­turn to the Eng­land fold. Jones has tipped him as a fu­ture can­di­date for the top job.

“Catch and re­lease” could add a “re­bound” sec­tion be­fore. First, the Tigers must re­build.

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