We recently caught up with Bath Head Coach Stuart Hooper, ahead of his first season at the helm at The Rec.
I can’t wait to get started. The lads have been in since 24th June, so there’s been a good strong build up. You get to the point you just want to play games.
It’s been a long & well thought out build up to put us in the best possible place for the first (Premiership) game of the season against Bristol.
The biggest thing for us is in engaging the players is around our game & getting them excited about being part of a team which is dominant & goes out on a weekend & they win & enjoy themselves.
The reality is, these young men (the players), they want to get better & be part of a winning team. The key for us is around understanding our performances, understand what it is we are trying to do as a club & how we play the game.
There has always been & will be, in the Premiership, tactical challenges, week in week out but to have a core of what we as Bath is, is really important. It allows us to develop through the season & consistency in our performances. The reality is, that the only way to deliver that, is through your training program.
What we do at Farleigh, during the week, will determine how we go at the weekend. There is no shortcut to it, no easy route to it. It’s about consistent approach to the standards we see in training. It’s what we want to take into the weekend.
Consistency in selection is an interesting one. For me it’s about building a squad of people who can be selected on any given week to win. You don’t want to get to a situation where you have one guy playing 10 games & the other person only getting 5 minutes at the end. It’s about building a squad who can compete across the year. No one person will play every game for us.
Squad rotation is not a term I’m incredibly comfortable with. Our players will have the opportunity to earn the right to play for Bath. They will also put themselves in a position to be dropped from playing for Bath, if they don’t play well enough.
On top of that you need to allow us to manage guys through what is an incredibly congested season.
Some positions you want it to be really close between people & some positions I want it to be very clear who is the first choice.
The Premiership Rugby Cup games allow us to prepare for the Premiership & allows guys to put their hand up to say they really want to be picked in that first Premiership game against Bristol.
Once we hit Bristol, there are 15 competitive (Premiership Champions Cup) games in a row. We have to prepare our squad through pre-season & those 4 Premiership Rugby Cup games, in order to be able to attack those 15 games.
The preparation we put in place is around allowing players to go out, in the 80 minutes & cope with the situation. There is a physical element to that, the ability to compete for 80 or 90 minutes. There is also a mental & emotional side to that, being able to manage your emotions, going to Bristol for the first game of the season, in front of 26,000 people. It’s something you have to talk about & put into practice. The program that we have put in place, delivered & the lads have engaged with, will allow them to go out & do what we do against Bristol.
(On last season) we have looked at it, how we could have done such such better, in different areas in the game how does that rewind into training. Some of the things that players did last year were outstanding we want to harness those bitspush them forward into this year.
(On Bath’s back 3 options) Whether we can change the laws have a back 4?! There are some great players there, with the emergence of Ruaridh last year. To go alongside the power of Joe, Anthony coming back into form fitness, with Rocco. There is huge strength there it will be interesting, as we go, who really puts their hand up for selection who is the best combination for any given weekend.
With Hats (Neal Hatley) coming back, the recruitment around our loose head tight head with Christian (Judge), Will (Stuart) with Lewis (Boyce), alongside what we have got, gives you an understanding of how important we believe it (the scrum) is. Not just the scrum but the set piece the ability to carry the ball over the gain line. There is still a huge amount to be gained from dominance at the scrum lineout.
(On using frontrow replacements) the movement of subs, people in out of the game, is something which is planned a lot of forethought to it, the minutes people play, who they are playing against what they can add around the field. With the props we have got, both on the loose head the tight head, we have the ability to continually pressurise the opposition for the whole 80 minutes. We know we have quality to come on.
The match plan is in place, including when players will be replaced. Only until the whistle blows then, if the plan is relevant, we may execute it. If the plan is not relevant, we will do something else. I think it would be naive to go into a game without a plan & it’s also naive to go into a game with a plan that you will definitely stick to.
The Premiership Rugby Cup (PRC) is part of our preparation for the Premiership. It’s about building for the Bristol game the rest of the season. The PRC is an opportunity for our guys to put their hands up for selection in the Premiership,Champions Cup. We will give our players an opportunity to play, across those 4 games. Across the 4 games, you will see our very best players playing, though not necessarily at the same time. You will be very unlikely to see a player playing across all 4 games.
(On what would be a successful season) what I want to see from us as a group, I include staff & players in that, is that we have shown, from minute one to the end of the season, an improvement. That we operate greater than the sum of our parts. The quality of our players is exceptional, I want us to operate as a team which, whatever the circumstances, we never stop trying & we never give up. When I stand in front of that group of young men, I will always talk about winning & winning the Premiership because anything less is doing them a disservice. We are not here on a journey of 5 years, some of these guys will only be at Bath for another year. They don’t want to mess around finishing fourth or fifth or sixth, they want to win.
We are here to win!