Caretaker Harlequins boss Billy Millard has explained he won’t be implementing any massive changes at the Gallagher Premiership club as they get used to life without director of rugby Paul Gustard who departed with immediate effect on January 20.
Nearing the end of his three-year deal, Gustard had yet to sign an extension that had been offered and things quickly went south, resulting in last week’s sudden parting of the ways and his week’s recruitment by Benetton as their defence coach on a three-year deal.
That abrupt departure has left club general manager Millard, the former Melbourne Rebels and Australia 7s boss, to quickly pick up the pieces with assistant coaches Jerry Flannery, Nick Evans, Adam Jones and Charlie Mulchrone ahead of next Sunday’s trip to Wasps.
The mechanics of the Gustard exit were not up for discussion when Millard fronted a Thursday afternoon Harleqins media conference. Instead, the focus was about looking ahead to getting the next two games versus Wasps and Bath before drawing breath.
“I have got a lot of experience in coaching,” said temporary Harlequins boss Millard, whose 16-year coaching CV also includes stints at Connacht, Cardiff Blues and the USA national team. “I’m certainly not going in waving my hands around changing stuff because these guys have worked really hard under Gussy, it’s not the time to be bouncing everything in the air and moving things on.
"What coach worth their salt is going to accept the top job at Harlequins with the knowledge they aren’t going to be able to set a culture?"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 27, 2021
“For me to support them properly I need to be in most meetings, on the training paddock so I can give them some feedback. If there is any tough decision to be made they will come to me. They have already been heavily involved in selections and recruitment right from the get-go.
“But there will be decisions where players or staff members or other bits and pieces will need a focal point and I will be that focal point for that the owners and Laurie (Dalrymple, CEO) so they are not taking up time with those coaches. Yeah, I’ll be hobbling around the training field to see what is happening,” he continued, referencing his recent knee replacement.
“I don’t think it is any quick, magical solution. We have got a lot of cohesion under this roof with a lot of players who have played together, a lot of players who have been playing under this system together and the worst thing we could do is make major changes.
“Everyone is dealing with this [Gustard’s exit] in their own way and different reflections but the group, all the staff and players, we have Wasps on the horizon so we have had to move on quickly… it’s business as usual and I’m there to support the coaches to give them as much empowerment as possible.”
Millard is currently set to oversee Harlequins through to the end of the season but he suggested there was scope for Gustard’s yet-to-be-identified successor to perhaps come on board before the 2020/21 campaign reaches a conclusion.
“That’s definitely the plan at this stage as we go through it, but I have been involved in other environments where people become available and maybe with five games to go they come in respectfully and get a lay of the land so they are not coming in cold pre-season.
“It just depends on timing but definitely the plan in my head and Laurie’s head and the board is that I will get much closer to these four coaches and move some of my generic general manager stuff off and drive the rugby programme with the current four coaches.”
Harlequins’ leaky defence has been an issue this season and an in-house topic of conversation ahead of their away date with Wasps. “That is something the boys have spoken about this week and something Gussy was working hard on.
“People are looking at this as ‘Paul Gustard sacked by Harlequins’… but Gussy was offered a contract extension that he wasn’t happy signing"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 26, 2021
“I don’t think there was one particular issue with it. It’s no secret we have been conceding penalties which put us on the back foot. When you are bogged down in that area time after time it takes a bit out of you but it’s about connection, relationships and playing for the bugger purpose as well as systems stuff.
“Gussy was an exceptional defence coach and it is up to everyone to take responsibility. I’m a believer the system only gets you so far. The rest is down to putting your body in front and working for each other. That has been spoken about and Jerry Flannery epitomises a lot of those traits we are looking for in defence.”
Millard added that Harlequins academy coach Jordan Turner-Hall, a 2012 Premiership title winner with the club, is also assisting the senior team. “Jordan Turner-Hall has got a really good defensive mind from set-piece and he has got strong relationships and a lot of respect from the playing group.
“At the moment the plan is to get through Wasps and Bath, everything is set up for those two weeks, and then probably over a coffee with the four coaches say, ‘How are you feeling with a man down? Gussy ran the defence. That has been soaked up by Jerry, Adam Jones and a little bit by Jordan Turner-Hall from a distance and that is probably something we need to sit down in a couple of weeks and monitor.
“The other thing in that space is the players need to step up and take more responsibility for certain areas and that is something the coaches will be asking for. We have already seen that play out quite nicely in the last few weeks.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 26, 2021
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