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Harlequins statement: Tabai Matson is no longer the head coach

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

Tabai Matson is no longer the head coach at Harlequins, Billy Millard instead taking charge of first-team affairs for the 2023/24 season with the former Fijian international taking up a newly created role at the club. It was the summer of 2021, just weeks after the Londoners has spectacularly won the Gallagher Premiership title, when Matson was appointed head coach in succession to the ousted Paul Gustard.

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Matson, who previously had a short stint in England at Bath, arrived following the conclusion of his role as head coach of the New Zealand U20s side, but results haven’t been the best at Harlequins. They relinquished their league title with a semi-final loss at Saracens last year and they only managed a sixth-place finish in May.

A statement read: “Following the conclusion of the 2022/23 season, Harlequins have undertaken a review of the coaching department, taking into account the arrival of new experienced coach Danny Wilson, and has now refined the roles and responsibilities to support the club’s aim of delivering sustained success.

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“Billy Millard, who joined the club in 2018 and was integral to the 2021 Gallagher Premiership title, will move from his role as director of rugby performance to director of rugby and have a direct responsibility for the men’s first-team squad, the coaching team and support staff.

“Danny Wilson, who officially joins Harlequins this week, has been appointed to the role of coaching coordinator and will also be responsible for the lineout and contact areas. Danny brings with him huge experience having successfully coached in the URC, internationally with Scotland and most recently in the Premiership with Leicester Tigers.

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“The experienced duo of Nick Evans and Adam Jones will remain in their positions as attack coach and scrum and transition coach respectively, with former Ireland international Jerry Flannery now having sole responsibility as defence coach. Flannery will be supported by former Quins centre and transition coach Jordan Turner-Hall.

“Tabai Matson has transitioned into a newly created director of performance development coaching role. He will oversee a range of initiatives across the performance programmes of both the men’s and women’s teams designed to support success of the club on and off the pitch.

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“This will include leading the men’s Skills programme, leading our transition player programme, overseeing the strategic partnership with London Scottish to ensure the development of those talented senior academy players, mentoring our developing coaches and further key new club initiatives that will shortly be announced.”

Harlequins chief executive officer Laurie Dalrymple stated: “We are committed to ensuring we deliver an identity of performance that continues to be reflective of this club’s DNA and we recognise we have an exceptionally talented group of coaches who are determined to deliver our vision and both our short and long-term goals.

“However, we should also reflect that in the 2022/23 season we did not achieve our ambitions on the pitch and so it is right that we review how to get the most out of this coaching group and we are determined to evolve and develop, balancing skill sets to ensure success across all performance departments.”

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Poorfour 5 hours ago
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AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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