Ollie Phillips: What next for underachieving Harlequins?


I wasn't surprised when I heard the news that Harlequins director of rugby John Kingston would be departing the club at the end of the season. Its sad when people lose or leave their jobs but Quins are underachieving and I think its the right call.

A club like Quins holds itself in a position where it wants to achieve; the quality and talent they possess and their status in the rugby fraternity mean they ought to be in the top echelons of the English and European game, but theyre not.

Its difficult for a coach who has been part of the framework for so long to replace someone like Conor OShea, who enjoyed such success, and put their own stamp on things and bring fresh ideas to the table.

Kingston, who was promoted to director of rugby from head coach in April 2016 after OShea left to become Italy boss, would appear to have suffered from that.

I know John and he is a smashing bloke and a brilliant coach but perhaps that loftier role isnt for him as he will inevitably have ended up dealing with issues other than rugby.

The position dictates that the post-holder will need to have a more strategic overview, run contracts and deal with the press, all of which are pressures and distractions which are not there when someone is part of the backroom team.

Quins have great pedigree in rewarding long-serving achievers like Kingston, while Nick Easter, Nick Evans and Tom Williams, for instance, all finished their playing careers and moved straight into the coaching set-up. Thats the right approach, but perhaps some freshening up of that top job is needed.

Change shouldnt be a prerequisite for a reversal in fortunes as maintaining excellence should be embedded within a clubs culture, but sometimes it does foster a revival. Time waits for no man and Quins cannot simply just hang around hoping things get better.

We all remember the Quins side in its heyday under OShea – it was a fantastic group – but there is no reason why the club shouldnt be reproducing the same levels of performance now.

They are clearly trying to do things differently and broaden their reach and the cooperation agreement with New Zealand Rugby, which has prompted suggestions that fly-half Beauden Barrett could come to England on a sabbatical, typifies that.

If they replaced Kingston by promoting from within, it would be difficult to see anything other than the status quo enduring, unless of course someone has a revolutionary outlook.

I would be shocked if Harlequins didnt fill the void left by Kingston with an external appointment and Id be equally surprised if it wasnt an external appointment geared towards supporting and championing that link with New Zealand Rugby.

Ultimately, its about time we saw Quins coming back up the ranks, challenging for honours here and on the continent. Given the quality of players they have, their fanbase, standing in the game and resources, there is no reason why they cant.

Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.

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