With a third of the season having passed we took the opportunity to catch up with Head of Rugby Operations Gareth Dyer to get his take on the opening 10 games of the campaign.
With a third of the season now complete how would you rate the teams overall performance so far?
It’s been a solid 10 games but with some frustration mixed in there too. We’ve only had four home games so far which is an important factor.
We’ve played some really good stuff at times and been to some difficult places and performed well. But the four late defeats at Huddersfield, Otley, Leicester Lions and Tynedale are frustrating as if we had taken the points we should have from those games then we could conceivably be fourth in the table. But we didn’t so we aren’t!
Perhaps the closeness of those results has raised expectations above what many anticipated at the start of the season but as far as I am concerned we have collected a reasonable haul of points and it gives us a base to build from for the rest of the season. This is a tough league so you have to scrap for every league point you can get.
The only target we have set ourselves is to try and reach 60 league points as soon as possible. Nothing has changed in that respect and we will continue to look to improve what we do.
How pleased are you to have secured 8 4-try bonus points out of 10 games?
Bonus points are important. We’ve taken something from every game so far and we are scoring plenty of tries which is a positive. We’ve probably left a lot of tries out there at times too. We try to be positive in games and we create some really well worked tries but for us it is also about being more clinical in games. We’ve scored four tries in games when really we should have scored 7 or 8. Obviously you don’t get any extra bonus points for that but we’ve been dominant in games and perhaps not had that adequately reflected on the scoreboard. It is something we are trying to instil in the squad that you have to be clinical and ruthless and not just settle for 3 or 4 tries when you should have 5 or 6 on the board.
Who have been the surprise packages for you in the league this season?
I don’t think there has been a surprise package as such. I think the division is very competitive and teams are capable of beating each other on any given day. It’s worth noting over half of the games played to date have been decided by less than one score. So you have to turn up week in week out to get something out of this division. As I’ve said, some teams have had more home games than others. I think some have had 6 home games from 10 played, some 5 and others like us just the four. Home form is important in this league. If you are going to challenge then you need to be winning the majority at home and then picking up probably one in two or one in three wins away from home.
It will be interesting to see what the table looks like by the end of January when perhaps the home/away ratio has been balanced up.
With 5 very late defeats in the 10 games so far what is the message to the players for the remainder of the season?
Those defeats were settled late in games but we probably missed our chances earlier in those matches to have made them safe. As I’ve touched upon, in a number of those games we had long periods is the ascendency and didn’t put the scores on the board we should have. That can do two things. Firstly it keeps the opposition in the fight where as if they were a further 15-20 points down then that scoreboard pressure might have stressed them further and made it difficult to come back.
Secondly and more importantly for us, it then makes us over eager to force the game. If you’ve been dominating possession for 30 or 40 minutes and not put the points on the board you should and then the opposition get some possession and territory, we’ve been guilty of then trying to over compete for turnovers or make glory defensive plays that are not needed just to get us back on the attack.
We have to recognise that teams in this division are good enough to be able to absorb periods of pressure and then have spells of pressure themselves. What we’ve got to do is react better to that, be disciplined without the ball and make those teams work harder for territory and scores. We probably feel we are letting the opposition get territory and scores too easy at the moment. We have to respect their ability, trust our structures and be more patient than we are currently.
Are there any players you would single out for particular praise?
It’s a squad game so I don’t like singling out individuals as we win as a group and we lose as a group. A lot of our squad have played this level before so they know what to expect where as some of the younger guys are playing this level for the first time and are becoming more comfortable by the week. We are challenging the players to be as good as they can be. We’ve set up systems off the pitch to allow them to prepare as professionally as possible and they are getting used to what we think it takes to get the most out of themselves. The lads are all working hard, are a tight group and I am encouraged by the approach that they are adopting.
Probably form the outside it looks like we train twice then pitch up and play but what now goes into playing at this level is huge. The club has been at National Two level before and we have players who have played this level before but this team/squad is at this level for the first time so it is a case of learning as a group as we go by, being open to change and tweaking things for improvement. As a group and I include the coaches and the off-field team in this, we have an evolving infrastructure that can take us a long way but only if we keep pushing each other. We’ve a good set of people in the group and they are driving the culture we are looking for.