With pre-season matches due to start in just three weeks, it seems a good time to get a feel of what our new coaching team have in mind and Joel and Dan took a break before training to chat about the coming season.
Joel, give us a flavour of what we can expect to see in the coming year.
Well, we are aiming at a full-movement game and a very positive, attacking brand of rugby, coupled with a real hard-nosed set piece and breakdown and ferocity in defence. That’s Utopia and it won’t all come together at once, but, certainly, Dan and myself want a team that goes out and chucks the ball around rather than being stereotypical. Hopefully we will come out in attack and surprise a few teams.
I’m going to say something which is probably a bit of a throwback but are we looking at fifteen-man rugby again?
Hopefully, yes. We’re very similar in terms of our attacking philosophy so it’s going to be ‘principles-based’, looking to exploit weaknesses and play the conditions of the team we’re against.
We have a number of different, we don’t call them ‘Game Plans’, more like Frameworks to enable players to make decisions and be an adaptive team that moves the ball. The whole principle is based around ball movement and being really quick at the breakdown.
That keyword is ‘Framework’ because it’s not do-what-you-want, laissez-faire, Barbarians stuff, there is a stance of principle behind it which we can all join around. The players will know what they are doing but they have the freedom to make decisions around that and if they see something, possibly some things we’ve not seen before, we’ll back them a hundred per cent.
You were both at the Lancashire Cup final and whilst you’ve only had a short time with the players, what is it you see in the squad that gives you a lot of encouragement for going back into the National League?
Firstly, they have a lot of ability and, one week in, the work rate is really good. I’ve been really impressed by how coachable they are, their ability to pick those bits of detail that we’ve chucked at them, and they’ve responded really well. The foundations are there, we know they are really talented, we’ve got a few new lads in as well which will help build on that and we’re both looking forward to working with them.
That leads nicely into the next question. We know there has been a good number of re-signings from last year which is reassuring for the Club, tell us a bit about the new players you’ve got coming in.
Dealing with the backs first, we’ve got a lad from outside the area who has been recommended to us by Will Greenwood who coached him down at Maidenhead, a really exciting back called Ed Keohane. He can play ten, twelve, thirteen, pretty much anywhere in the back line and whilst we’ve not met face to face yet we have spoken with him a lot and he’s really focussed. He’s been doing his own testing away from the group and posted his scores and has bought-in already despite not having been here yet so an exciting player like that will make a big difference.
We’ve another young, talented player who has just graduated from Lancaster University. He’s called Frazer Stannier who can play at twelve or thirteen. Again, he’s big lad, very skilful, very fast, very strong. He trained last week and looked really good.
Other backs, we’ve signed Francesco Krsul who has recently played for Italy U19s at scrum half. He’s come through the pathway at Myerscough so he’ll be joining us on the 24th July for the second part of our pre-season build up and we’re excited to see what he will bring.
We have to very good nines in Harry and Jake but having a young nine like this is going to enhance that position, pushing the scrum halves on, it will be massive for the group.
As to the ‘big lads’, we’ve got two new locks in Max Laboda who’s six foot nine and Josh Jones, six foot six. Probably the biggest off-season signing is Scott Richardson from Blackburn who has already made a massive impression in training and the guys will know him from last year.
Also, we have two lads who will be coming to us from the Sale Sharks academy and although we can’t announce their names just yet, they are going to be very good players in the pack.
We have Joe Coope Franklin who has been part of the Llanelli Scarlets. Very good over the ball, a very good player by the looks of it from what we’ve seen last week.
So these signings will add to the excellent foundation we inherited and, overall, we are both looking forward to working with them all.
The supporters have had a good season and there’s no doubt about the fact that they needed it after the season before.
Without pinning you down, what would you be happy with by the end of this campaign?
From my point of view, it’s going to be such a competitive league. I don’t think there’s going to be much difference between the top and bottom sides and that will make for small margins so, if we can build that positive momentum and get on the positive side of those margins, I’m backing the players and if they go out and play like they are capable of doing we’ll be more than fine in this league and we’ll be challenging every team in there. For me, it’s not a position-based criteria, it’s more about performance and how we navigate our way through the games and taking those fine margins.
Lastly, how have you settled into the Club?
The first thing we both noticed was how welcoming everyone’s been. People just coming out when we’re setting up, introducing themselves, it’s been great. I feel I know the club quite well from my connection with Myerscough but to actually be here with the first class facilities on offer to us, it’s been fantastic. It couldn’t have been better for the first week of pre-season.
I’m probably the ‘overseas man’ from Cheshire so I’ve had no previous connection with Hoppers apart from the School but I can echo what Dan’s just said. There have been lots of messages and emails from people welcoming us in and we both feel very much accepted already.
Pre-season starts with a home fixture against Kendal on Thursday, 4th of August followed by two away games at Newport (Shropshire) on the 13th and then Lymm on the 20th. Then the real stuff starts on the 3rd of September with an away match at Wharfedale.
As usual, the 1869 coach will be on hand for the away fixtures so make sure you sign up and don’t miss a thing. We’re back in the National League – can’t wait to get started!
Report by John Le Page, pictures: Preston Grasshoppers