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Warriors set targets on international stars
SIXWAYS will no longer be the last staging post for ageing former internationals looking to see out the twilight years of their career at the same time as topping up their pension pot.
For longer than I care to remember, Worcester have splashed the cash on 30-something players whose once-enviable powers were clearly on the wane in the hope that these journeymen’s vast experience could galvanise the club’s youngsters and create a squad capable of earning a Heineken Cup spot.
Warriors’ Premiership record — including relegation to the Championship — proves this strategy has been a costly and long-running mistake.
Too many players have chugged into Sixways and picked up huge pay-packets without delivering what has been required on the pitch.
With that in mind, I believe the Worcester powers-that-be should be applauded for admitting what they have been doing is not working and adopting a new plan, rather than ploughing on regardless in the vain hope that one day a squad made up predomiantly of 34-year-olds and 22-year-olds would click and fire the club into the top half of the Premiership.
Head coach Richard Hill this week revealed the club will be taking a new approach in terms of player recruitment and Sixways managing director Charlie Little has spoken in depth to me to explain how things will be done from now on.
“In the past, we have tried to merge the young, English academy players with experienced players and we haven’t got into the Heineken Cup, so you could say that hasn’t worked,” admitted Little.
“So, what we are looking at now is bringing in players that are younger, have something to prove and are professional on and off the pitch, with the aim of getting the club into the Heineken Cup.
“Leonardo Senatore is one of those types of players — he is a current international.
“If we are successful with the recruits that we have targeted, we will have six or seven current internationals at Sixways next season.
“My point is, the players who will be coming in will be current internationals, not people who have played for their country and are now coming to the end of their careers. Therefore, the age of the squad comes down and the ambition goes up.
“Admittedly, Paul Warwick is 32, but he is a double Heineken Cup-winner, as fit as a butcher’s dog and looks after himself. The other players will all be under 30.”
Little continued: “It is easy to point out that, with the system we have had over the last five, six, seven years, we have not got out of the bottom four.
“Do we want to be a Heineken Cup team? Yes, we do. Do we want to break the mould of being a feeder club? Yes, we do. Do we want to keep hold of our young English players? Yes, we do. Do we want to be a young, English-domninated team in the future? Yes, we do.
“Those are our aspirations from the shareholders down. However, to get there, we think we need to bring in quality players who are playing their best rugby somewhere around the world.
“Hence we have Paul Hull in his scouting role and Corin Palmer in his rugby operations role making sure the players we get are the very best available, given the parameters and restrictions within the salary cap and terms of contracts.
“On that basis, we hope to have a strong squad that will, in time, move us through to the Heineken Cup and will then be underpinned by the young English talent we will be bringing through the club’s academy.”
All of this is a bold statement from Little and actions will ultimately speak much louder than the MD’s words as Worcester’s squad for next season takes shape in the coming weeks.