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'Some Quins players had clandestine meetings with the CEO': The Rugby Pod's inside story on hurried Gustard exit

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

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Paul Gustard revealed his next move on Tuesday, penning a three-year assistant coach deal at Italian club Benetton, but the dust is still only settling on his sudden exit with immediate effect from Harlequins last Wednesday. Having joined the Londoners in 2018 after serving under Eddie Jones as England defence coach, Gustard’s existing deal was up for renewal.


However, in contrast to the headlines which last week suggested Gustard had been sacked, it has now emerged that he had been offered a contract extension and negotiations apparently soured after senior players allegedly held secret meetings with club CEO Laurie Dalrymple

Gustard, who spoke candidly to RugbyPass in September 2019 about what his targets were at Harlequins, was immediately linked with Wales and elsewhere as soon as he exited The Stoop last week with Harlequins sitting in seventh spot in the Gallagher Premiership, but Italy will be his next destination and it will be interesting what impact his departure will now have on the London club.

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“It’s a strange one,” said ex-England international Andy Goode when addressing the fallout at Harlequins on the latest episode of The Rugby Pod. “When Gussy [Gustard] took over, Quins were in a really bad place. They were tenth in the league or something.

“He has taken over, got them up to fifth in the first year and sixth in the second year, got them to a final [Premiership Cup]. It looked like progression. There needed to be some sort of broom taken through that club to get rid of some of the older players and a coach like Gussy needed time for that.

“People are looking at this as ‘Paul Gustard sacked by Harlequins’. That’s the kind of headlines that have come out. But doing my research and speaking to some of my sources, Gussy was offered a contract extension by Harlequins that he wasn’t happy signing. 


“They had put a contract on the table. His contract was running out at the end of the season, he hadn’t signed it because wanted a few things to change at the club. When some players got wind that Gussy hadn’t signed his deal yet, they had clandestine meetings with the CEO Laurie Dalrymple. They kind of said, ‘Gussy is trying to change things etc, etc’. 

“From what I am hearing they got wind of Gussy not signing his contract yet and they ushered it along and forced the situation where Gussy has now got somewhere else he wants to go to. They realised that if he wasn’t going to sign his contract some of the players started voicing their opinions because they didn’t think he would be there in the long run and they just got rid of him and cut ties pretty quickly.”

Delving further into the break-up, Goode added that an interview released by the club with Dalrymple left him confused. “What I struggle with, and this is Quins down to a tee for me, they won the league in 2012 and people have got this impression of Quins, their culture, who knows what their culture is unless you have been in there?

“But the CEO has come out and said, ‘Individuals suit certain environments and the club has taken time to reflect on the way that they want to live and operate and create the identity and culture that is reflective of us as a club’ and they say Paul Gustard doesn’t suit that. 


“What is Quins’ culture because Gussy was trying to change from the old to the new club and I don’t get what their culture is? What do they think they have got, a winning mentality? They have won nothing, they have won one league. 

“What Gussy has done is he has improved that club. He took the club forward but there is people at that club holding them back. Sometimes you have got to move on, you have got to have a fresh broom. Look at Toulouse. 

“They had a load of old players, the coach took a broom, got rid of some of the old boys and brought in some of the young lads, which Gussy was trying to do. Toulouse, a few years down the track, win the Top 14 and effectively rugby and sport is cyclical, so you have to regenerate your squad. 

“Leicester for years had the best squad and were always in the finals and then they changed their whole emphasis around recruitment and have been s*** for years. There is a lot of time when you are DoR where you need to be given complete autonomy in trying to implement your plan.

“I don’t think it happened with Gussy at Quins, I don’t think he was given complete autonomy. By all account, clandestine meetings by senior players have led to Gussy leaving. To be fair to Gussy, I don’t think he wanted to stay there because he has got a more exciting option.”


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