Up until a few weeks ago Worcester Warriors would have been feeling pretty confident, with a host of new signings and a squad that was slowly building for the future.
However, the departure of Director of Rugby Dean Ryan just a few weeks before pre-season fixtures sent shockwaves across the region, and meant the club had to quickly reorganise the senior squad coaching structure, with head coach Carl Hogg and high performance director Nick Johnston now both reporting directly to CEO Jim O’Toole.
Such was the hastiness and surprise of Ryan’s decision to leave the club that when I spoke to O’Toole a few weeks back he was brimming with optimism about the club’s future:
“Our goal in the short term is to stabilise in the Premiership, which we achieved last season by finishing tenth with four or five games to go. Our medium term goal is to continue that progression in a northerly direction and our long term goal is to be consistently challenging for top six and European Champions Cup places.”
O’Toole and Worcester had genuine reason for positivity as Ryan had been rebuilding the squad since he took on the post of Director of Rugby in April 2013, with greater emphasis being placed on the club’s excellent academy.
Yet it appears Ryan became disillusioned with the post and that is what has driven him to leave. As O’Toole said in a recent interview (via Worcester News):
“I want to make it clear to all our supporters and stakeholders that the decision for Dean to depart was driven from his side,” said O’Toole.
“He made it very clear to us over the last few weeks he no longer wanted to be a day-to-day director of rugby at a Premiership club.”
Of course, there is some consistency in the coaching department with Hogg and Johnston effectively promoted and given greater responsibility, but there is no guarantee the pair will be able to build on Ryan’s previous success.
Despite this, the club have made some excellent signings with former Springboks Dewald Potgieter and Francois Hougaard certain to make an impact next season, and former rugby league international and Leinster centre Ben Te’o determined to keep his place in Eddie Jones’ England squad for the Autumn internationals.
Ultimately, however, the club still suffers the same fate as the likes of Newcastle and Sale. They all develop young players and then lose them to ‘bigger’ clubs. When you think the likes of Matt Kvesic, Graham Kitchener, Matt Mullan, Tom Wood and Miles Benjamin are just a few of the players to have moved on to other clubs, then you start to see the problems the Warriors have.
It is pretty inevitable that given the transient state of the squad and the issues that will be caused by Ryan’s departure so close to the new season that Worcester will once again struggle. Last year they ended up under pressure to survive in the league in competition with both Newcastle and the eventually-relegated London Irish.
Worcester finished comfortably ahead of both Newcastle and London Irish last season, but will most likely be fighting with the Falcons once again and newly-promoted Bristol to avoid being back in the Championship next season.
Huge investment off the pitch at Worcester is not necessarily equating to consistency on it, and Hogg and Johnston must work quickly to ensure the impact of Ryan’s absence is not keenly felt by all at the club.
Ben Te’o from Ireland Leinster
Jackson Willison from Grenoble
Will Spencer from Bath Rugby
Marco Mama from Bristol Rugby
Perry Humphreys promoted from Academy
Dewald Potgieter from Yamaha Júbilo
Matt Williams from Northampton Saints
Francois Hougaard from South Africa Sevens
Biyi Alo from Saracens
Darren O’Shea to Munster
Charlie Mulchrone to Harlequins
Jean-Baptiste Bruzulier to Nevers
Ben Sowrey to Newcastle Falcons
Heath Stevens to London Welsh
Joe Rees to Rotherham Titans
Andy Symons to Gloucester Rugby
Alex Grove to Birmingham Moseley
Ravai Fatiaki released
Dan George released
Matt Gilbert released
Dan Sanderson released
Prediction: Relegation battle
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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