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'Performance culture expert' reviewing Gustard-less Harlequins and will report to the board next month

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

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Eight days after director of rugby Paul Gustard surprisingly quit, Harlequins have revealed that Owen Eastwood, an ex-solicitor from New Zealand who has become an elite sports performance culture expert, has been working at the Gallagher Premiership club in recent months and is expected to report his findings to the board at the end of February.


The consultant, whose CV includes stints with English football’s Gareth Southgate, the All Blacks, Scotland rugby, South African cricket, British Olympics and the Command Group of NATO, was apparently a chance recruitment by Harlequins general manager Billy Millard who happened to be in a playground with his daughters when someone he met there suggested that he should check out Eastwood’s credentials.

Millard did, eventually linking Eastwood in with the owners at Harlequins. The Kiwi has since instigated a root and branch review of the club that will conclude next month and will now feed into their recruitment process in selecting a successor to take over from ousted boss Gustard.

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Ex-Harlequins winger Chris Ashton has given his first Worcester interview
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Ex-Harlequins winger Chris Ashton has given his first Worcester interview

Millard, the Harlequins general manager who has taken over the team in a caretaker capacity, was adamant that the ongoing review by Eastwood had nothing to do with the abrupt Gustard exit on January 20, a departure that was followed by this week’s announcement that their ex-director of rugby will take up a three-year assistant coaching deal next summer at Benetton.

What Eastwood will now report will be intriguing amid questions from pundits such as ex-England out-half Andy Goode who has questioned what has been going on under Gustard at Harlequins and wondered what exactly is the culture at the club. That is what Kiwi Eastwood – who is set to publish a book next May on his overall career in team cultures – will hope to provide answers on when he finishes up at The Stoop in the next few weeks.

Taking his first media conference as caretaker boss following the exit of Gustard, Millard revealed on Thursday how Harlequins have been working with Eastwood in the hope of re-emphasising what they are all about as a rugby club. “I was in a playground with my daughters and I was speaking to this guy,” said Millard, explaining how the Eastwood link came about. “I won’t mention his name but he’s quite high profile and he said, ‘Have you ever come across this guy’s work?’


“So I went and listened to his podcasts, then got his phone number had a chat with him and just linked him to the owners and said, ‘Look, this guy is really cool. He is living in London, here’s his breadth of work’. I know a lot of other clubs were chasing him at the time in rugby and out of rugby.

“He has got a book coming out and his world is about to get very busy. I said, ‘Do you guys want to have a coffee with him?’ That is sort of how it happened. It wasn’t, ‘We have to go and find someone because this is pear-shaped’. Not at all. Literally, that is how it all played out.

“The owners have been speaking to him for a few months. He’s coming towards the end of it. He has got maybe three or four more weeks and he is speaking to a huge cross-section of people past and present and reading a lot of in-depth stuff and he has got his process he goes through. He’s a bit in the shadows but if you dig deep enough you can see the work he has done in other organisations and just his thought process.

“Things have changed a lot since the year [2012] that Harlequins lifted the trophy,” Millard continued. “There is a certain way of playing that gives you a larger percentage to win but Quins do have a very long history and identity, so it’s about getting the balance.


“Owen Eastwood is quite under the shadows and under the radar. He is a solicitor by trade who fell into this space. He’s (Gareth) Southgate’s right-hand man, he’s done the South African cricket team for eight years, he does the British Olympic team, he did the work with the Waikato Chiefs when they went back-to-back and his whole approach to this is eeking out a unique identity of a club.

“The reason we got him because a lot of clubs and organisations were chasing him is that he knows the rich history that Harlequins have and there is a great story and identity there. It’s still a work in progress. He is well past the halfway point and it will probably wrap up the end of February.

“It’s about underpinning everything we do with a deep sense of purpose and identity which falls into all our decision making around what type of people we need to make our environment thrive, what type of recruitment links into that, what is our playing identity and who are our tribe?

“He talks a lot about who do we represent? A lot of clubs just flow along. We kind of know the answers to these things but he is working with the owners to get the structure and it will outlast all of us and will certainly help all the staff and all the playing group attach to something bigger than what we have got now because we all believe Quins have something pretty strong to attach to.

“There has been some brilliant coaches and a lot of hard work, sweat and tears and it goes way back than two years (when Gustard joined). A lot of clubs fall into this, they win a championship in 2012 and it wasn’t sustainable, and what about the 40 years before that?

“This is a way to give us a real anchor and foundation into what we do that will just add another element. It’s definitely something the exec group and the owners saw as a gap and it kind of started talking to Owen about this and they saw it as a pretty important piece of the jigsaw. Not the whole solution but definitely something that will assist all of us going forward.

“It’s not just the rugby stuff, it’s the whole business and aligning everything from what we do in the sports psychology area, what are we doing in the pathway, what is best in class in academies across the world?

“He’s got that many touchpoints with global best in class from sports psychology to pathways to what is our coaching approach to facilities and how we link that to our identity so it is much broader piece than, ‘Hey, how we are going to play rugby and how we are going to win it?’ It’s commercially and the tribe and being in London in a big city.

“I have only ever been with Cardiff and Connacht, who are very easy to identify who your tribe are because you walk down Shop Street and you know every publican, everyone knows you. Same with Cardiff, you have got the valleys and the city.

“In this big space (of London), it has been really interesting talking to him about narrowing that down. It’s a lot broader than, ‘Hey, how are we going to win rugby games?’ It’s the whole performance piece and business side linked to it.”

Adamant that Eastwood’s review had nothing to do with Gustard quitting, Millard added that Harlequins will wait until the performance culture expert files his report before getting stuck into the task of finding a new director of rugby.

“We have certainly had a lot of interest (about succeeding Gustard) but it’s about taking a deep breath and soaking up around this Owen piece. The way he describes it as well, he is not doing it for us, he is doing it with us. He kind of sketches it and we colour it in.

“Once that is done we will sit down. I’ll have some involvement I guess as some players might, but the whole process of that, we haven’t sat down and factored that out yet apart from let’s keep circling with Owen and see how that finishes and then we will have those discussions.

“He will probably talk about the type of environment. He already does about what he thinks needs to be in place for high performance to thrive, the type of people that you need within it. You need a balance of people in it, you can’t just have the one type of person.

“But yeah, I presume that he will have some ideas as our owners do, as our CEO does, as our leadership group would do, the type of person that we feel (is needed). I have been through this exact scenario before with Cardiff Blues when the great Mark Hammett got moved on.

“Warren Gatland and I did this process to bring in Danny Wilson. At the time Danny was probably the less-known person we interviewed but he was the right fit for that group for a whole lot of reasons and it worked. They won that game down in Bilbao and a lot of guys went on to play for Wales under Danny. It’s that type of process. We just need to spend our time getting it right.”


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