Gareth Dyer’s rugby column

Alan Holmes is stepping down as director of rugby at Preston Grasshoppers
Alan Holmes is stepping down as director of rugby at Preston Grasshoppers
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‘It’s like deja vu…all over again.’ Whilst the phrase is meant to be whimsical, Hoppers defeat to Stourbridge last Saturday gave the supporting faithful that very strange feeling that they had seen the story of the match before in this campaign.

And again. And again.

And unfortunately for everyone connected with Lightfoot Lane there is certainly nothing to smile about on the pitch as another eminently winnable game resulted in defeat and, with it, the relegation trapdoor opened that little bit further.

If I was to again go over the reasons why Hoppers lost the game then I could easily be accused of plagiarising earlier columns from this season.

Indiscipline, playing rugby in the wrong areas of the field, a 15-minute drop-off in defence and a multitude of unforced basic errors handed the game to a visiting side who for long periods threatened nothing.

But Hoppers are where they are and the time for change has been in the offing for several weeks.

If there is one thing that cannot be directed at this Hoppers outfit it is a lack of effort. The players have week in, week out, given it their best shot. They have put their bodies on the line for the cause and for that they should be applauded.

But overall the lack of quality and depth in the squad is now painfully evident to all. It’s been evident to many all season.

The announcement that director of rugby Alan Holmes and head coach Garth Dew are to step down at the end of the season was made a few weeks ago.

I am bitterly disappointed for both Al and Garth. They are genuine guys who care deeply about Hoppers and they are hurting more than anybody at the way the season has unfolded.

They are honest guys and they will no doubt look back at the season and point to key issues having made it a difficult campaign.

I am sure with hindsight they may have done things differently at certain times but if anyone at the club believes the current plight is down solely to these two hardworking guys, then they I’m afraid they are part of the problem.

If the Hoppers supporters and club want it in basic terms, then for too long there has been a losing culture imbedded in the 1st XV.

If a positive season is represented by winning more games than you lose, then looking back over the last 15 years, the club has enjoyed few positive campaigns.

In fact, it would number well less than half in those terms. Treading water in the same division with little signs of progression usually results in the end in one thing. Relegation.

Has the club got to grips with the realities of semi-pro rugby? You’d have to say it hasn’t.

Does the club know what its strengths are and how to get the best out of them? Again, you’d have to say it doesn’t.

Yet the club does have so many positives going for it. It has a wonderful set-up and a solid infrastructure off the field means it is not reliant on the folly of a benefactor.

It has a strong supporter-base of members and sponsors who all care deeply about the club and support it strongly both in terms of attendance and financially.

Its playing resources in terms of numbers means the club’s participation levels are through the roof. But at 1st XV level the club has got itself stuck and it needs a jolt.

I am not the type of person to sit in an ivory tower criticising the work of others. If you care about something – and I care deeply about the club – then you should put yourself in the firing line and try and improve things.

To that end I have accepted an invitation to re-join the club’s rugby committee with responsibility to revive the club’s fortunes at 1st XV level.

The priority will be to recruit the right coaching team to take the club forward and strengthen a youthful squad with experience and quality.

There are a lot of good young players in the Hoppers squad but they need those leaders on the pitch.

Off the field, the club hierarchy needs to be more visible and drive both the culture that the club wants and set out a clear vision for where it wants to go.

I learnt a lot from my spell as director of rugby at Hoppers and being out of the club game over the last couple of years has allowed me to step back and evaluate Hoppers and their place in the game.

Nobody wants to see their team relegated. It should hurt everyone at the club. If it doesn’t then you probably don’t care enough and you should move on.

But with relegation comes opportunity. I hope with the support of others to make the most of that.

For after all, the darkest part of night is just before the dawn breaks.