We plan to hold a number of events throughout the year from our Evenings with..., our annual dinner dance and other events throughout the season. We will post further information here as we arrange them, we will also advertise them through our Facebook and Twitter accounts.
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Following our recent ‘Evening with David Ellis’ event, the Club have published a written summary of the key themes that were raised to share with supporters who were unable to attend on the night.
Although the event was filmed, due to some of the discussion touching on commercially sensitive topics, the Club provided this update rather than share an edited version the recording.
Why is Harlequins such an attractive club?
We are such an exciting place when you see the opportunity here and when you see the strength in the squad.
We feel like we’ve got one the strongest squads that we’ve had in a very long period of time and, when you see the assets we have like the buildings at Surrey Sports Park, the relationships that we have with the All Blacks, the experts who come into work with us and the partners we are able to leverage to gain greater insight and push the athletes to get that extra 1%, the heritage, the shirt we have and the people around the world that love us for our style of play. It is really one of the most exciting places to be in world rugby.
Where did it all go wrong last season? Why did you give your Director of Rugby an extended contract at Christmas and then sack him two months later?
There is a lot of misperception out there right now.
We didn’t award the new contract at Christmas time. The way that the coaching contracts work is that you are always looking at a year out, and when we looked at the end of last season with John Kingston, he had taken us to sixth in the Premiership which was better than we had achieved for the previous three years.
In terms of recruitment John had wrestled wonderfully with the imbalance caused when our wonderful youngsters come through and up into the national squad.
He brought in a ball-playing number 12 in Francis Saili, Demetri Catrakilis who is a leader at 10, and also Renaldo Bothma. We felt we had a new spine to the team, and so when we sat down at the end of last season, we made a commitment because we believed in what was going on and we believed in the momentum.
Why didn’t you tell us in the summer? It looked odd that you announced at Christmas, and then a few months later John was gone.
Again, when you go back to what happens in the rugby world, we were recruiting players at Christmas time, so when John recruited Nathan Earle from Saracens and Ben Tapuai from Bath, we needed them to buy into that dream and that vision. With 20/20 hindsight, we may have made a different decision and said something in the summer, but it became something it shouldn’t have been.
Why did you feel the need to make the change when you did? What had happened to force you into that decision?
There are three main issues that we faced collectively on the field, and the number one was injuries. The rugby department, in everything that it does, tries to get the best 15 on the field as often as possible. When we won the Premiership we had the same guys on the field in think 78% of the time, but this season at one point we had 31 injuries which, out of a squad of 58 including academy players, that made it difficult to get the momentum required to do battle together. The number of injuries was in fact unprecedented and we need to find out why that was.
Then, there were two other areas which were in our control that we didn’t perform well-enough at. The first was defence. Our processes didn’t work the way we wanted to and we got to the point where we needed to always score more than our opponents, which made for very exciting games, but often very scary games to watch.
And the other is discipline. Our record with yellow cards and red cards often meant that we were playing with 14 against 15.
All of these coming together made it very difficult for us to compete, especially because of how competitive our league is now. You cannot get away with such small margins now that the differences between top and bottom are so minute.
What are the plans to re-develop the stadium
We’ve been on this ground for 54 years and we are blessed enough with you as our supporters, and the attraction we have as a club, to be at 98% capacity for our Premiership games. This is our home and we want to stay here, so first and foremost we are not moving. However we do have an opportunity - a demand - for more space and better facilities.
We have started engaging, and we will be engaging in a more formal public consultation with all of you - our supporters - and in the local area to find out what The Stoop, our home, means for the future and how can we improve and build on it.
We’ve started that journey, and we’ve looked at the infrastructure of the stadium, but we’ve also said that if we want to be here for another 54 years then it is really important that we integrate really well and with consideration to the local community.
We’ve been part of building the free school over the road, and we know the effectiveness of our Foundation in terms of going into local schools and talking about mental health, translating what we know about stamina and resilience into our local community and helping them along. We’re trying to build on that premise to take into our development of a new stadium: leading in the community as a club and taking on opportunities around us.
Yes, we want a bigger stadium and yes, we want to stay on this site. It is really important that we keep our heritage, our identity - all the things we care about - but it is even more important that we integrate deeper with our local community so that we can be here in a sustainable fashion for a long time. And if we build a bigger stadium, that will be better for the club in terms of our financial reserves which will give us another 10/15 years of being in a strong position in this community both on and off the field.
What is a dream size for the stadium? 30,000. If you look at the footprint, there is the potential to do that.
Are the Club’s recent poor performances due to other off-field distractions?
I think you all know, but if you don’t, we spend all the way up to the salary cap, so our investment into the rugby is pretty much at the maximum it can be.
We then look at the facilities and the coaching infrastructure we’ve got at Surrey Sports Park and we invest a huge amount into that.
One of the main reasons that you see a deficit is that the salary cap and went up by over £2m, and the support costs went up, and we went with them to make sure we invested in the rugby first and foremost.
It is easy to say that we have been distracted by other things, but I would disagree with you because rugby is our core. We are a rugby club.
It may seem like we are distracted but everything that we do is focused on the rugby and trying to get the best XV on the field. We wouldn’t engage in a relationship with the All Blacks if we weren’t focused on the rugby – that isn’t a commercial deal. There may be some interesting stuff with adidas that comes along but that’s about getting the pathways in place, getting the players, getting the coaches and the experience. We are driven by the fact that we are a rugby club.
What is the reason for the increase in price of membership
Membership has gone up 2-3%, but small price hikes are sometimes necessary to help the Club grow.
How did the NZ link-up happen and how will Quins benefit?
We started talking to them about 18 months ago, when we had the Maori match here during our 150thyear.
As with all these things there are a number of reasons why you start having conversations. Part of it is because of the so-called New Zealand “brain drain” - with players being attracted away from New Zealand for vast sums of money that the Union can’t support, so they are looking at ways to create environments for players coming out of New Zealand for them to go to where they would get an insight into and help with their player development and their character development. With that premise in mind, we started talking to them about what Harlequins could do.
Everything, however, is reciprocal. We thought: what could this mean for the development of our academy players? And how placing them in one of the lower competitions in New Zealand could aid their progression so that when they come back and play for us, they’re better rugby players.
So that was the premise, helping some of the emerging All Blacks, or people who may be taking a sabbatical, to come up here in an environment in which they can thrive (which can benefit us from a playing perspective) but I think what’s more exciting are the pathways that have been created for our younger people and for our women.
The other part of it is the coaching side. How can we share and understand knowledge that can make us become better, to compete more, to be world class? Nick Evans has already been out there and we’re learning how we can grow the coaching learning and development profiles as we need them.
Also it is important to say that being in London we are in a good area for a team like the All Blacks, and we do have a joint mutual, beneficial relationship with adidas because there’s got to be things that we can do together that excites more people to play rugby. We’re well-known in the world and clearly they are the number one team in the world right now.
What about the reports that Quins will be paying off coaches to the tune of £2m?
More fake news. It’s the same as what came out about Marcus Smith’s salary. Please, don’t believe that stuff. It’s not where we’re at.
While it feels hard right now there are so many amazing things that are going on at Harlequins. We have a very talented squad, a wonderful group of players, an amazing talent pool coming through; we’ve got wonderful relationships around the world that are excited about what we can achieve and we are at the forefront of driving rugby.
I say this with humility, but I don’t think that there could be another club in the world that would attract the All Blacks.
When you see the emergence of the women’s game and how our Foundation has brought over 1,000 girls to the sport within a year by going into all the local schools; when you see our ambition to grow the Club…
We have the best fan base in the whole country; our stadium is at 98% capacity; irrespective of the fact that we’re in a tough place. The attraction to this place for potential coaches is great, and the opportunity for us to galvanise all these things and shoot up the Premiership and be great again is there for the taking.
I am very proud of this club. We have had a tough season but we will come back stronger, and the opportunity to come back stronger is clear and obvious and we need to take it.
I want to say thank you to all of you. Without you, we are not a club. Without us being angry and disappointed and passionate, it would be terrible.
Thank you for sharing your views. We’ve started a debate, and we need to continue the debate. All I can say is that, like all of you, we care very deeply about this place and it hurts when it isn’t going well, but the opportunity to do it right is there and we’re going to take it and we’re going to lead it forward going into next season.