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Gustard's comments after joining Benetton were telling about set-up at Harlequins: Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
(Photo by PA)

The departure of Paul Gustard from Harlequins has raised eyebrows but the message coming out of the club about culture should definitely raise even more. What is the culture at Harlequins? It would be helpful for fans and all outside observers to have that outlined if the chief executive Laurie Dalrymple and some of the players are suggesting that is a major reason behind this parting of ways.


Dalrymple has said they have taken the time to “reflect on the way we have been playing and the way we want to live and operate and create an identity that is reflective of us as a club”, so people need to understand what that identity is now.

I have also seen some quotes from Danny Care saying that “you can’t bring in your own culture” as a head of rugby but that is exactly what a head of rugby, head coach or director of rugby should be able to do.

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Chris Ashton’s first media interview as a Worcester player
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Chris Ashton’s first media interview as a Worcester player

One thing is for sure, the culture at Harlequins isn’t a winning one and it hasn’t ever been really on a consistent basis. They won the Premiership title in 2012 and had won the Challenge Cup a year earlier with a strong group of players, but it has been downhill since then.

Everyone wants to be winning titles and competing at the top end of the table but that isn’t possible and Harlequins seemed to be building nicely for a while under Gustard, finishing fifth and sixth in the league since he took over after ending up in tenth place prior to that.

His contract was up for renewal and it looks like things went south that wasn’t sorted out swiftly and you always see those off-field issues manifest themselves on the pitch. Harlequins are still only five points off the top four so things are hardly in dire straits but we have seen a lack of discipline on the pitch and now things have unravelled.


The word coming out of the club is that they have conducted a wide-ranging view and taken on board a number of different opinions – and clearly the players have been part of that.

We don’t know to what extent, of course, but you have to be careful when you are asking players’ opinions on this kind of thing because they have all obviously got individual motivating factors. Let’s not kid ourselves either, Harlequins knew what they were getting in terms of culture and ethos when they hired Gustard as well.

There was a lot of talk about them needing an outside voice and a change after things didn’t work out under John Kingston, who was completely ingrained in the fabric of the club, and I’m sure the culture he brings with him will have been spoken about openly at the time.

People may have seen the clip in the past couple of weeks of Alex Sanderson speaking to his Sale players after joining them as director of rugby and outlining his values, talking about hard work but also about enjoying beach holidays and lazy Malbec Sundays.


That may raise a smile but he also said: “I value honesty in all our communications and I know honesty takes trust and trust takes time but we have got time, lads, so we will get there.”

That is him setting out his values and his vision for the club. Obviously, there is much more detail involved in the culture he is trying to create and the game plan he will try to implement that we don’t see but he has to have the autonomy to be able to do that.

It sounds like that isn’t the case at Harlequins and the comments by Gustard after announcing that he is joining Benetton as assistant head coach – that he “wanted to join a group where there was a clear vision, deep level of trust and a dynamic environment” – are telling.

What coach worth their salt is going to accept the top job at Harlequins with the knowledge that they aren’t going to be able to set a culture or have the control necessary to influence something as major as that?

There are only a limited number of jobs in coaching so we know that there will be plenty of people willing to take the job, but you have to question what the culture is at Harlequins which they are going to be working under and whether they can be successful if they aren’t setting that.

Quins might have a reputation for trying to play champagne rugby over the years but the champagne has been left out of the fridge and with the bottle open for too long, it has gone flat and is starting to taste like vinegar.

They might have in mind a desire to bring back the fizz and start playing that champagne rugby again but there has to be more substance to their culture and identity than that and the fans deserve to know what that is.


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