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Ex-Harlequins boss Gustard gives verdict on first year in Italy

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Former Harlequins boss Paul Gustard has delivered his verdict on how he has fared as the defence coach in his first year working at Benetton, the Italian URC franchise he joined last summer after exiting The Stoop in January 2021. Quins went on to win the Gallagher Premiership title following the departure of the head coach who has since settled in Treviso on a three-year deal. 

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Benetton will play their final match of the season this Friday and a win over Cardiff would see them leapfrog the Welsh region into 13th place in the 16-team league where they have won just five of their 17 matches so far. 

The Italians have conceded 480 points, leaving them ranked as the eleventh-best defence in the tournament in terms of points conceded, and it has left ex-England assistant Gustard stating that there is much to improve next season despite the year-one progress of the new coaching group assembled by Benetton after Kieran Crowley left to take over the Italian national team.

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“This was the first season together with a new staff, we are slowly trying to change the team’s style of play and everything we do has a relative consequence,” explained Gustard. “So if you use your foot more, you know you could defend more during the match, if you try more to win turnovers, you can expose yourself to counterattacks. 

“It’s about understanding what team we want to be and finding the right balance. From a personal point of view, I am happy with a lot of the work done – I have noticed excellent improvements in the development of the players even if sometimes we concede too many points and too easy tries to the opponents, so there is still a lot of work to do. 

“I am directly responsible and I know we need to find a way to better defend the mauls. Finally, we need to defend well in the first five attacking phases of the opponents but for now, we are conceding too many tries in the first three phases. So there will be a lot of work in view of next year in finding new defence strategies. In any case, I have also observed a lot of progress.

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“Against Cardiff, we want to give life to a good performance and by playing well we have a better chance of winning. We started the season well, then we had a tough time in the Six Nations. Sometimes you don’t play well and win, but on Friday in Monigo we would like to do both. Finishing the season with two consecutive victories would give us a lot of morale for next year.”

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