Gallagher Premiership side Gloucester confirmed they would be going into a full rebuild on Tuesday when they announced that David Humphreys would be leaving his director of rugby role just 18 days after head coach Johan Ackermann also departed the club.
It is an uncertain time for professional rugby union, with the sport suffering heavy financial losses as part of the global coronavirus pandemic, something which will have significant consequences moving forward.
That either makes the Gloucester decision to clean house of Ackermann and Humphreys and start anew inspired, with a new leadership group specifically recruited to navigate the upcoming challenges, or it is an upheaval that will compound what is already set to be a testing period for the club. Both cases can be argued.
From a squad building perspective, the next few years are likely to challenge Premiership directors of rugby in a way that they have not been in recent history as new TV deals and title sponsors saw the competition increase its salary cap and clubs spend more and more money each year.
The competition is currently trying to push through permanent 25 per cent wage cuts for players and despite opposition from the Rugby Players’ Association, it is something that RugbyPass understands is likely to go ahead. This coincides with the majority of Premiership clubs backing a proposal to lower the current salary cap and end the marquee player designations.
For example, if a club is spending the full £7million salary cap on its squad, with an additional £1m spent on two marquee players, that overall figure of £8m expenditure is only going to be reduced to £6m through the proposed 25 per cent cut.
In reality, the figure would likely still lie above £6m, with players on smaller salaries not, you would assume, required to take the cut. Regardless, this would still fall short of the £5m mark that has been widely reported as the target salary cap that many clubs are pushing for.
That is not an ideal situation to go into when looking to rebuild a squad, especially with wage expectations among available players remaining relatively high and yet to adjust to the financial hole that rugby union finds itself in.
Recruitment of more expensive and higher profile players has to be perfectly nailed. With a larger cap and bigger squad sizes, the odd error in recruitment can be glossed over, but that will not be the case moving forward should the cap be cut.
Furthermore, talent identification from within a club’s own academy has to be as efficient as possible. It is those youngsters, on significantly smaller salaries, who will be required to make telling contributions to the squad at an earlier point in their careers. In short, it simply adds pressure to get everything right from day one.
Among the external candidates mentioned in connection with Gloucester to succeed Ackermann and Humphreys, a tandem of Dai Young and Rob Howley has been touted to be leading the chase for the position as stands. RugbyPass understand that Gloucester will only be looking to bring in a head coach and no director of rugby, with the previous responsibilities of the director of rugby shared between the new coach and Alex Brown, the club’s commercial director.
Whether Young might become the head coach in place of Ackermann and Howley takes charge of the attack, or the pair are both vying for the same Gloucester position, remains to be seen. Young has been out of rugby since he departed Wasps in February and while every Wasps fan owes Young a debt of gratitude for the job he did guiding the club through their battle against relegation and administration in his early seasons at the helm, there are also red flags for Gloucester to consider.
Upon moving to Coventry, Wasps were given a new lease of life in terms of their ability to recruit and Young wasted no time moulding the squad to his liking. It went well and Wasps came very close to lifting their seventh Premiership title in 2017, but the wheels then swiftly came off of the bandwagon.
The Kingsholm plot thickenshttps://t.co/7myulab5z9
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 3, 2020
Heavy recruitment year after year left the club with large swathes of player turnover each season, club stalwarts such as Elliot Daly, Danny Cipriani and Joe Simpson departed, and few players progressed from the club’s usually productive academy to regular senior representation.
Given that Premiership clubs’ ability to recruit is likely to be lessened in the upcoming seasons and reliance on academies should, in theory, increase, this could be seen as a concern. It’s not to say that Young could not prosper in that role, only that recent history at Wasps doesn’t show it to be his modus operandi.
Likewise, Howley’s recent experience is dealing with a smaller group of elite players, not having to progress annual academy intakes to the first team or having to recruit significantly and build a squad. As a coach, he has excellent credentials, but he is untested as someone who would be required to rebuild the Gloucester squad.
What, then, are the alternatives for the Cherry and Whites? It is unknown whether or not he would be available but Nick Kennedy, Saracens’ current head of recruitment, is one of the men who potentially ticks all of the boxes. He has coached at London Irish, not only leading the academy side to the Premiership U18 title but also guiding Irish back up from the Greene King IPA Championship as director of rugby.
Another seismic departure from Kingsholm https://t.co/7vvicrne4I
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 2, 2020
He is adept at developing young talent, is a savvy squad builder and has current knowledge of the recruitment market. The biggest question would be whether or not the lure of a hybrid role like that is enough to get him to walk away from Saracens where the appetising challenge is to rebuild the perennial title contender in a cap-compliant way and help reassert them as the dominant force in English rugby.
Across the Irish Sea, Stuart Lancaster, the former England head coach and current Leinster attack guru, is consistently linked with any new role that appears in English rugby. The criticism that came Lancaster’s way after the 2015 World Cup – some of it fair, the majority of it not – has largely been forgotten following his excellent work in Dublin.
Although integral to Leinster’s success, there could be a part of Lancaster that yearns to build something for himself back in his homeland. But that is far from guaranteed with the former Yorkshire Carnegie supremo enjoying a very productive relationship with Leinster boss Leo Cullen and Ireland boss Andy Farrell. With Mike Catt also involved with Ireland and Graham Rowntree onboard at Munster, England’s 2015 management quartet have all further enhanced their coaching careers in Ireland.
Both Kennedy and Lancaster would seem to be particularly good fits for Gloucester, but there has been no shortage of other names mooted for the role such as Edinburgh’s Richard Cockerill and current Gloucester assistant Rory Teague. Meanwhile, Dean Richards may not have the recent track record of bringing through youngsters, but in terms of being able to work on a smaller budget, it would be remiss not to consider the Newcastle boss as another option.
With a decision expected shortly on who takes over from Ackermann and Humphreys, it is unlikely that we will have to wait too long to see who it is the Gloucester board decide is the person to take the club forward in these unprecedented times. Just as there will be increased pressure on the candidate to nail every move they make in terms of building the squad, the exact same pressure exists on the board to make the correct call on who the person to have their hand on the tiller is. They’re an expectant bunch at Kingsholm.
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