With the departure of Conor O’Shea as director of rugby at Harlequins at the end of the season, supporters of Twickenham’s historic club faced an anxious wait to see who would succeed the beloved Irishman who brought success and consistency to the Stoop.
Now that the changes have been announced, it appears Sean Fitzpatrick and the rest of panel appointed to find O’Shea’s successors have gone for gently adapting the script rather than tearing it up.
John Kingston, promoted from head coach to director of rugby, is an integral part of the Harlequins back room staff and has been since he joined the club 15 years ago.
He was a member of the staff that saw the team reinvented as a genuine force in English and European rugby under the stewardship of Dean Richards and took many of the plaudits for two of Quins’ Challenge Cup wins as well as their inaugural Premiership title back in 2011.
Mark Mapletoft, who enjoyed Six Nations and Junior World Championship success with England U-20s, becomes head coach having previously been in charge of attack.
Former England and Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree takes on Kingston’s previous responsibility for coaching the pack and will bring a wealth of experience, as well as having always been highly regarded by England’s senior players.
Harlequins’ evergreen Nick Easter, still first choice at the Stoop despite being a spritely 37 years old, will be moving into a player-coach role and will take responsibility for defence, a role previously held by former player Tony Diprose, who moves into the position of ‘academy and global development director’.
Altogether, the new set-up offers an intriguing prospect for Harlequins. Whilst Kingston and Mapletoft provide an element of transition and continuity from the previous regime, the introduction of Rowntree will offer the side fresh ideas and potentially new approaches to the set-piece and breakdown. Easter’s appointment ensures the perspectives of the club’s core of senior players are represented and creates a pathway for a vastly experienced ‘old head’ to move into a position of responsibility for team development.
Despite possible accusations of ‘safety first’ in the selections of Kingston and Mapletoft, the club are taking a considerable risk with Easter. All eyes will certainly be on the Quins’ Number Eight as he follows in the footsteps of the likes of former England forwards Rowntree, Paul Gustard, Joe Worsley and Trevor Woodman by moving immediately into coaching as his playing days come to an end. Being a good club and international player does not necessarily make you a great club coach and vice versa.
Finally, it will be interesting to see who takes on the mantle of being the media ‘frontman’ of the set-up. O’Shea was a master at using the press to his advantage and as Eddie Jones said recently (via The Scotsman):
“When you talk to the media, for me, I’m talking to the players.”
It’s a crucial responsibility for keeping both players and supporters on side and Kingston has more often than not been in the background for the club. Therefore, whether he or Mapletoft becomes the voice for the team will be fascinating to find out.
O’Shea will walk away from Harlequins with his head held high having brought trophies, talent and pride back to the club after the shambles of Bloodgate. Now it is up to Kingston and company, as chief executive David Ellis rightly said (via Quins.co.uk), to take them on to the next level.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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Read More About: aviva premiership, bloodgate, challenge cup, conor o'shea, david ellis, Dean Richards, eddie jones, england rugby, english rugby, european challenge cup, Harlequins, joe worsley, john kingston, Lions, mark mapletoft, nick easter, Paul Gustard, quins, Sean Fitzpatrick, the stoop, tony diprose, Top Story, trevor woodman, twickenham