New Harlequins head of rugby Paul Gustard insists that he is not leaving an unhappy camp after deciding to walk away from his role with England to take up his first head coaching job in the Premiership.
Gustard was on Monday announced as one of two men who will replace sacked director of rugby John Kingston at Harlequins, with the club now on the lookout for a general manager to work alongside the former Leicester Tigers, London Irish and Saracens flanker. After having his final interview earlier in the month, Gustard beat Wales assistant Shaun Edwards and former England and Fiji Sevens coach Ben Ryan to the job, although there is still the potential for the latter to be brought in if he wants the general manager role.
But while the move has been greeted with positivity at the Twickenham Stoop after this season’s extremely disappointing Premiership campaign, across the road the Rugby Football Union are now on the lookout for a replacement for Gustard – who will officially leave his role after the three-test tour of South Africa.
Much has been made of Gustard’s decision and the reflection is has on the England set-up under Jones, who has proven on more than one occasion a spiky character since taking the head coach job at the end of 2015. But despite following the exit of former attack coach Rory Teague last year, Gustard insists he is not abandoning a sinking ship.
“It’s a big decision to leave, but there’s big enough reasons for me to do it,” Gustard said. “It’s based on opportunity, there’s no ghosts here. Nothing about England was wrong. I was currently negotiating a new contract with England. It wasn’t about that, it wasn’t about my happiness there. It was the fact that this opportunity for me and for family reasons were a great opportunity for me to progress.”
With the length of time from initial talks to the acceptance of the job offer spanning just three weeks, Gustard added: “It’s all a bit of a haze I guess. I had a lot of soul searching to do, a lot of talking with my wife, and obviously with Eddie as well. So it’s all happened pretty fast, and the pleasing thing for me was the positive conversations I had with Eddie around it and the support I received around making a decision.
“He was fine. I know sometimes people talk about Eddie in a different way. But for me he has always been good. He gave me my first opportunity in coaching at Saracens in 2008 – he either recruited me as a coach or retired me as a player – and hopefully he saw something in me that he thought would make a decent coach. Then he came back again to Saracens in 2016 and recruited me for England so from that side of things I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities he’s given me and over the last two and half years we’ve achieved some unbelievable memories together and those are the kinds of things you don’t forget.
“You’ll always remember the emotion on the faces of people in the changing room you’ve sat around and had a beer with and he’s one of them. I was in that room because of him, following on that, the conversation I had with him and the reasons I gave, he’s been first class.”
Gustard also believes that he is leaving a team that is not only capable of beating the Springboks 3-0 next month – despite having never won a test series on South African soil – but also one that can and will win the Rugby World Cup next year.
“Why not? Why think that we can’t do it?,” he responded. “We’ve got some very good players. It’s a new challenge. We want to respond after not doing ourselves justice during the Six Nations. We underperformed but we’ve looked at it, analysed it, critiqued it, red-teamed it, we’ve put it in a washing machine and tumble-dryer and brought it out again. We’ve got a different product now that we’re giving to the players. It’s different for them and from that point of view I think we’ve prepared appropriately to win 3-0.
“I fully believe the team will continue to kick on and improve, and that on November 2, 2019 we’ll lift the World Cup.”
It is quite the U-turn from Gustard, given that his homework will go from trying to take the country ranked third in the World Rugby rankings to World Cup glory, to trying to resurrect a Harlequins side that by his own admission has under-performed for the last two years under former director of rugby Kingston.
Gustard officially starts the new job on 1 July, but he immediately got stuck things by meeting the strength and conditioning staff to check the facilities and methods are up to scratch. Due to the quick nature of the appointment, Gustard says he has not had a chance to talk things over with any of the Quins players in the England squad – although he was at last week’s training camp in Brighton where Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw, Marcus Smith and Mike Brown were all in attendance.
The club are also looking for the right person to work alongside Gustard, although he was quick to point out that he will be “100 per cent” in charge of picking the team each week and also have a say in the club’s recruitment.
“They are in a process now and are interviewing personnel,” he explained. “Obviously I will meet them as I need to be able to work with this person. The exciting thing for me is the roles and responsibilities of the general manager will allow me to be a tracksuit coach, to be out on the field with the team, where my strengths are.
“His or her role will be driving high performance, with the strength and conditioning, medics, helping me drive high performance with the rugby, dealing with agents and all that kind of stuff. For me it is a brilliant position to be in.”
Follow the Independent Sport on Instagram here, for all of the best images, videos and stories from around the sporting world.