NIGEL Davies spent 27 years at the heart of one of Wales’ greatest clubs – now he aims to restore Gloucester to their rightful place in English rugby.
The Cherry and Whites director of rugby has just passed the 18-month mark in his tenure at Kingsholm and has compiled an in-depth strategic plan to put the club back on track.
Languishing ninth in the Aviva Premiership is no place for a club of Gloucester’s historical significance and stature.
The former Wales and Llanelli centre is under no illusions that his side’s current plight is simply not good enough but he would always have conducted such an in-depth review at this point.
Davies said: “Regardless of our performances this season I would have done something similar now because after 18 months you get a real feel for everything.
“ I’m now in a really strong position to assess where we are, where we need to go and how we get there.
“I’ve written a very strategic plan that goes back in depth to the 2008-9 season because from that period the club has been indifferent.
“I’ve looked at why that has been the case, what underpins it and how we move forward. There are key objectives, the action that needs to take place to fulfil that and time frames in which we’re knocking them off.
“This plan has looked at everything – the style of play, the squad itself, the coaching and management of the organisation, the wider environment, the culture and the support structures in place.
“It’s essentially a road map to show how we can become successful in line with our mission statement which is to be a consistently top four team domestically and in Europe under a sustainable framework.
“The detail and effort that has gone into this has been quite significant. It was a solid couple of weeks with a lot of late nights. I know this isn’t where we want to be as a club but this is my reflection of it and this document sets out where I want to drive it – it’s been approved by the board and this is the direction we are taking the organisation.”
With the signings of Richard Hibbard, John Afoa, Mariano Galarza and Greig Laidlaw, Davies has already rebalanced the financial distribution within the squad and the two key points of emphasis next season will be defence and goal-kicking.
Gloucester enjoyed their best of each as they finished fifth last season but they have slumped since. During this tumultuous league campaign they have lost five matches by five or less points – a slipped tackle or a couple of missed kicks has proved decisive far too often.
The Cherry and Whites lay claim to the second worst defensive record in the Premiership; Freddie Burns, the primary goal-kicker at the start of the season, has a success rate of 57.89 per cent and the club is in the top five for indiscipline. But Davies has been quick to highlight and address the obvious problems.
He said: “There are some key things you can pinpoint immediately. Defensively we have a terrible record over the period I have looked at. We enjoyed our best last year but this season we are down to 11th and it is similar with goal-kicking where our success rate is less than 60 per cent.
“They are a couple of significant things you simply have to address if you want to be in the top four. There has to be a clear plan about who we are recruiting, why we are recruiting them and what we need to do.
“I’ve been quite clear in going back to certain rugby values of Gloucester Rugby that we have gone away from in this period. When you look at the balance of the squad and where the money has been spent, there has been a lot of cost in the back-row and backs.
“We’ve moved it across to the front-five for next season. We have rebalanced the squad in terms of how we resource it because there has been very little investment there.
“We have a five-point plan – to develop and become a top four pack, to become a top four defensive team, to become the fittest team in the Premiership, to have a clear style of play which is effective, exciting, successful and recognises the history of Gloucester Rugby and to provide a unique, engaging and challenging environment and a culture in players, coaches and staff which is obsessed with performance.
“Fundamentally, next season our pack and defence has to be top four and then our game will evolve around that. I am comfortable with the rugby we play but you have to have a base you can fall back upon and that isn’t the case at the moment.”
With Laidlaw already secured and Scarlets fly-half Aled Thomas understood to be on his way to Castle Grim, Gloucester will possess very different fly-halves to Leicester Tigers-bound Burns.
Once again it comes back to Davies’ philosophy of establishing solid foundations and a breakaway from style over substance.
Davies said: “Fly-half is a very pivotal position, they have to be very consistent in terms of repeatability, put the team on the front foot, kick at the right time, run at the right time and get their backs into the game. They have to have a feel and understanding for the game and be accurate.
“Freddie has the ability to be an exceptional player if he gets his base game right. But if you look at the players that have made their name in international rugby their base game is what it’s all about and if they can add other bits and pieces around that then great.
“Owen Farrell is very solid and the same goes for Stephen Jones, Neil Jenkins, Jonny Wilkinson in years gone by – these top-level 10s do the right things at the right times.”
Gloucester’s quartet of new signings will bring 117 caps and a wealth of experience with them.
There are currently no internationals in the Cherry and White front five but the introduction of Hibbard, Afoa and Galarza will go a long way to addressing that while Laidlaw will provide an abundance of experience at half-back.
And while Davies expects the newcomers to make a huge impact with their arrival alone, he reckons their presence around the club will be even bigger in terms of developing future talent.
He said: “Generally it’s the least number of internationals in the whole squad and that has an effect on experience and culture.
“Mentoring as well, we have young tightheads who have had no role models and I know the importance of that. When I was a player and I had Ray Gravell and Peter Morgan as role models and you automatically learn from them.”
In rugby, as in life, you are constantly learning and Davies has had to adapt to the rigours of English domestic rugby.
Though there are plenty of similarities to his home club in Wales, Davies’ move to the West Country has been an eye-opener. But he remains determined to restore the Cherry and Whites as a major force.
Davies added: “It’s very similar, there’s a real passion for the game and a buzz around the town on match-days which are particularly special. The people are also very similar – they are passionate, knowledgeable and desperate for success.
“The transition has been very easy in that sense, this is a great club and I’m comfortable here. It’s great to play at Kingsholm with such amazing support and if we get it right on the field it can be a very powerful weapon.
“You learn all the time but it’s been great coming to a new environment and it has really energised me in terms of the league and what it takes, it has been a learning process.
“There has been some good times and some tough times more recently but overall I’ve loved the experience and I’m desperate that we succeed, this club deserves it.”