Rachael Burford: 'Quins haven't been good enough this year'
It’s probably been the best Premier 15s season yet in terms of exposure and player recruitment with overseas players coming in and how competitive the league is now. All four semi-finalists are genuine title contenders.
There’s still work to do between the top four and the bottom four because, even as a player those games are all well and good when you beat teams by 60 points but actually you want a tighter contest every week and you don’t want things to be an obvious done deal. I’d still say like a big majority of the games you could probably predict. And so where we get where we want to get to is where it’s unpredictable and it’s about the best team on the day and anyone can beat anyone.
On top of all of that, the Women’s Rugby Association and the Rugby Players’ Association have developed and are now representing domestic female players, and from next season the Premier 15s will be its own company, (Allianz Premier 15s Limited), due to oversee the organisation and management of the league which is hugely exciting.
As this season draws to a close, something that’s been on my mind is the significant amount of injuries this year off the back of the World Cup. A lot of players, especially from England weren’t available for selection for the Six Nations and then you had more players getting injured mid-season such as some of the Scottish and Welsh girls. How many injuries post Rugby World Cup we had this year in comparison to 2017 would be a fascinating stat to find out.
In recent times, the games weren’t as physical or as fast or competitive as they once were. And players haven’t been able to tolerate that, so there must be a link and we need to work out what it is and make sure that we protect players moving forward.
What’s been interesting to see at the tail end of the season is player movement already starting to happen. I think a significant amount of players will go across from Wasps to Ealing Trailfinders and follow Giselle (Mather, Director of Women’s Rugby).
I think for both Ealing and Leicester it is exciting that these new teams are going to be involved in the league, however, we have to recognise it will take time to build and get the calibre of players they need to be competitive.
So I have no doubt that they’ll be strong, but I don’t think, we’re looking at either of them being in the top four in year one but recognising the facilities and everything that these clubs are trying to do, that’s going to become an attractive proposition for players.
I remember when I was looking for a club after the 2017 World Cup and I had a couple of conversations with different clubs and the reason I joined Quins was because there was familiarity there, but there was also some of the exciting unknown.
One big players name Ealing have secured is Abby Dow. She had been coached by Giselle ever since she was 18 and it was really hard for her to leave Wasps. I think if they had still held their professional status for players in the league, she’d still been there, it’s not about winning for her. When she joined Harlequins, we always knew as a club and she’s very open and upfront, that the likelihood is that she would only be a temporary at Quins and appreciates the opportunity but her heart is elsewhere.
This season at Harlequins, it’s naturally been really disappointing not to make the top four for the first time. We haven’t been good enough this year and we probably don’t deserve to be in the top four.
We believe we’re a better team than what we have produced over the season and definitely, we’re better than the points that were scored against us, against Gloucester Hartpury in Round 16. I know it’s the old cliche, I don’t think the result defines the group but ultimately that was a high pressure game, high stakes game and we had to win it in order to stay in the hunt. And I think that pressure just kind of got to us.
After the Gloucester game, that was the worst game for a lot of players that they’ve ever experienced in a rugby shirt. And after that, we got together as a group and we checked in on people, seeing how they are as the group was really down.
The last couple of weeks we’ve had to adapt to how we approach training and make it more relaxed, make it more enjoyable, have fun, do some games and look after the tired bodies.
This season, our head coach Amy Turner had only a small amount of time to get her feet under the table before the season kicked off and as it was a late announcement, it’s felt like we’ve been playing catch up this year.
When you sign a coach late, you have late player signings, meaning that we’re not a settled as a squad and then you’re in the thick of a season. We also lost a number of players through injury or other circumstances. We lost our front row with Vickii Cornborough going off and having children and Shaunagh Brown leaving and those two were the crux of what you need to have a platform to play off. Then Jade Konkel-Roberts and myself getting injured and then later Sarah Bonar, so it felt that as soon as we had a bit of momentum, we those injuries just crippled us.
I also I think that we just relied on the past and just thought we’d be being able to get there in that top four, but we didn’t and so this year we need to press a big old reset button. We have to do things differently because we want to be competitive and we want to be in top four and we want to get to finals, which is the ambition of our club.
We want to be one of the best clubs in Europe, we want to be recognised by people across the world like in New Zealand and they hear about the Premier 15s, Harlequins is a club that they talk about but in order to do that we’ve got to play consistently and produce really good results.
Even though we’ve only got one week of the season left, we’ve done a lot of work with the group in the last two weeks to really start setting the scene for next season already.
And that’s how we’ve got to look at this. It’s an opportunity for us to reset, start preparing now and then when we come in for pre-season, we can hit the ground running because all the planning and preparation is ticked away.
Former Quins player Ross Chisholm is now coming on full time with us to lead the attack and he’s got a really good rapport with the players. He’s obviously got plenty of experience in his own playing career.
It’s not on the club, it’s not on the coaches and it’s not all on the players. We have a shared responsibility and ultimately we’re so passionate about trying to be the best. But we I think we need to flick that switch of- the best takes more than what we’ve done. A lot more. And we’ve got to be prepared to do that work or we’re not going to be competitive with the teams who are bossing it in the league currently.
The club is also bringing in someone to focus on post-career planning with the players. We want to try and look after our players and just do more. We need to be asking all the time, how we help support our players? Especially those who are still very much in full time employment and working every hour under the sun on top of being a rugby player.
You have the players who can be in the club at 1pM on a Tuesday afternoon, but then what about the group of players who can only get there for 5:30/6:00PM? How do we maximise their time and how do we create the best programmes for them as opposed to them trying to squeeze stuff into a one size fits all programme?
I feel really confident that Harlequins are going to jump forward a lot over pre-season and we’re going to get ourselves back to the team that we know we can be.
A competitive team that ultimately drives for the top four spot and we’re not relying on some results to go our way and trying to scrape through some of our own. I believe that we’re a squad that can definitely get back to where we belong in the next couple of years.