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'It's not you must win or else': Hooper's Bath vote of confidence

By Liam Heagney

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Beleaguered Bath boss Stuart Hooper believes he retains the support of club owner Bruce Craig and CEO Tarquin McDonald despite the embarrassment of last Sunday’s 71-17 Gallagher Premiership hammering at home to Saracens. The shocking result has promoted questions about whether the rookie director of rugby has what it takes to turn the club into a consistently competitive team. 

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Hooper was appointed Bath boss in May 2019 and while they went on to reach the semi-finals in his first full season in charge, they finished the last term in seventh place and are now rooted to the bottom this season following defeat in their opening four matches. 

The club came into the season promising a major change to their style of attack where they wanted to bring their firepower in the backs to wield a greater influence, but that alteration hasn’t paid off and there has been speculation about whether some outside help might now be needed. 

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Ex-Sale director Steve Diamond was linked earlier this week with possibly coming in, but Hooper has suggested he has still got the full support of his employers and he also isn’t considering recruiting a specialist defence coach to shore up their leaky rearguard. That defence brief is currently the remit of head coach Neal Hatley, the ex-England scrum coach.   

“Bruce is hugely supportive,” insisted Hooper at his midweek media briefing three days after Bath were torn asunder by Saracens. “We have spoken about the game because part of my role is to have that communication with Bruce and allow him to see some of the ways we are going to get better from the weekend. 

“That’s what it has been, him and Tarquin as CEO, we have spoken of course in a very supportive manner about how we go from this point and how ultimately we make sure this is the lowest point because it is very easy to say it is upwards from here but you have got to make the conscious decision and changes to allow that to be case. Everyone at the club has been hugely supportive and continues to be so. It’s not just an arm around the shoulder, it’s about challenge and support and those guys, Bruce and Tarquin, have both been outstanding in that regard. 

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“I know we have to turn this around and I have an absolute belief that we will but it’s not driven by pressure from above, it’s driven by a desire and a want and a pressure from within the group to do that. The players would have felt awful for the performance on the weekend and as somebody who is responsible for their development and this part of their careers, it is something I take a huge amount of responsibility in allowing them to go out and be the best they can be. That is for me where the pressure comes from.”

Asked if he has been given a specified period of time to ensure results improve, Hooper added: “Not a fixed period of time. It’s not about you must win or else! It’s about what can we do differently to help us win, what do you need to do, could you try this, could you try that? 

“They [Craig and McDonald] come at it from an area of wanting to support me and wanting to support the group through what is a difficult time. There is no ‘you must do this or else!’ It’s absolutely a relationship where it is challenge and support, wanting to get the best out of everyone who is here.

“Defence has to improve. There are elements of our defence on the weekend which is not things people want to see again, but there is no knee-jerk reaction to that. Neal is responsible for our defence and as head coach it is a responsibility he can take on absolutely. 

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“We as a group have plotted our way through the early part of this week and some of it was really tough, really hard and the thing with professional sport is you have to move from the tough bits to getting back to playing the game pretty quickly. If you were in the building at the start of the week you would have seen some pretty strong challenge in a lot of areas between coaches, between coaches and players and between players and players.”

Hooper was adamant that a positive performance would now materialise when Bath visit defending champions Harlequins on Saturday. “It was a bad day at the office (against Saracens) and there was a number of factors but one thing I am very clear on is the group is very tight and there is a huge amount of confidence in each other and also the game model we are trying to play. 

“Although a performance like that can never just be brushed under the carpet, it has to be addressed and the players and staff have been outstanding at addressing it. I am very confident that the underlying issues are not there, I am very confident we are a few weeks into a season where we are developing a new game model and we got it wrong on the weekend. 

“We played badly, we executed badly and we were on the end of an awful result. But I have every confidence in the group, every confidence in the players, every confidence in going out this weekend and putting in a performance which allows us to get the win at The Stoop.”

 

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'It's not you must win or else': Hooper's Bath vote of confidence

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