Back on the front line
September 4, 2013
Dean Ryan at his new home © Getty Images
Four years out of the game can either see a coach lose any semblance of passion for rugby or instead, develop a new itch that could only be nullified by eventually finding the right club and environment to throw themselves back into the day-to-day workings of the Aviva Premiership.
Dean Ryan's time out of the game between 2009 and 2013 saw, if anything, his reputation enhanced as one of rugby's top minds. His work as a pundit was always essential viewing as he demystified the sport, provided a rare insight that at times stunned those sitting alongside him and above all, showed he still had a unique nous for the oval ball game. At one stage, such was the level of his analytical skill that he picked apart London Irish's two-pod attacking system on Rugby Club which prompted calls from a couple of the club's players to inform him they now needed to think up a new strategy.
When Ryan walked out of the Kingsholm doors for the final time in May 2009, he was then linked with almost every top job going in the Premiership and over the respective ditches in the PRO12 but nothing quite ticked the necessary boxes for him. He had a brief spell with Scotland during the 2013 Six Nations but it was only ever on a temporary basis.
Then Worcester sacked Richard Hill and Cecil Duckworth dusted off his black book, turned to R and phoned Ryan.
"People get mixed messages," Ryan told ESPN. "I always missed coaching, I just didn't miss the cycle of coaching, directors and I had lost some confidence in boards because of the experiences I'd had. I also enjoyed working for Sky. So I never thought I'd come back to it.
"But once I'd started conversations with the chairman at Worcester and Cecil and once I knew they had grasped the challenge and the enormity of the challenge to get us through the next three, four, five years, I ended up with a reverse question of 'Why wouldn't I do it?' And I think that's a very different question to ask yourself.
"If you get to that place and don't do it, you're in danger of regretting it. That was the challenge. If I turned this down, even though I was going to be the only person who knew about the opportunity, I'd have still known and that eats away in your head. I'd rather find out myself than let someone come and tell me what it was like.
"There's a huge part of the potential already there. They've got great facilities and a supporter base but we shouldn't underestimate the challenge of getting the rugby right."
While there are some similarities between the Worcester he has inherited and the Gloucester he left off the field, there are few examples on it. When Ryan departed Gloucester, his team was built around a core of England players - Olly Morgan, Mike Tindall, James Simpson-Daniel, Anthony Allen, Ryan Lamb, Andy Titterrell, Nick Wood and Luke Narraway were all in his ranks.
At Worcester, they have just seen Matt Mullan and Matt Kvesic leave Sixways for promises of greater riches and Test-chances enhanced at Wasps and, of all places, Gloucester respectively. This cannot happen again, according to Ryan, if the Warriors are to progress.
"We have the lowest amount of English qualified players. We have no transfers of academy players into our senior squad and that screams out to start with as something we need to sort. That won't happen over night if you think the team is going to compete in the top six because there's no youngster in the world that will get you competitive in the top six.
"Yet that's what's screaming out as being wrong with the club. The coaching element is the first priority because we never want to lose another Kvesic. I'm very confident the way we are coached now, that we will never have another 21-year-old telling us we cannot match his ambitions. That's essential. Then we can at least start capturing talent on our doorstep.
"As soon as you say that you want to be in the top six within twelve months, that changes the decision-making process and it doesn't work. Everybody is aware of that at the club. Everybody has been fairly transparent with the support base. And then we need to go on and fight to see where we are."
Players such as James Stephenson are key to Ryan's model © Getty Images
You feel there will never be a return to what were billed as halcyon days when the Warriors signed Chris Latham and Rico Gear. Latham worked, Gear never clicked at the club. Dreams of top four never materialised and Worcester over the years were struggling for an identity. This does not seem to be happening under Ryan.
Worcester recruited 13 players in the close season of which four were English with the majority of the rest in the twilight years of their careers. They were Hill's signings, pieces of recruitment made focusing on the short-term with no regard for where they will be in 2015. This will change under Ryan but it is unlikely to bring immediate silverware.
"The key is to ensure that we make decisions about what we want the club to look like in four or five years time because if we make decisions over what we want the club to look like in the next six to twelve months, it compromises our second year.
"That's the cycle that Worcester's been wrapped in for eight or nine years. And in no stages is that focus on nine or ten. People ask about what my targets are, but that compromises the way you look at a season. People say you've got to be X or Y and you need to be able to recruit people to fulfil that but they might not suit where you are in 24 or 36 months.
"The club needs to take a step back. We are now well coached, we've got to get the maximum out of this group and we have to be prepared to take wherever we are in 12 months and still stay in mind for where we want to be in five years."
Worcester will learn a huge amount over the next couple of seasons under Ryan. They will not be in the top four come the end of this campaign but you feel they would have developed and be in a better place than they have been for a while. For Ryan, he looked at home at the launch of the new Premiership last week, even though he did admit he was shaken up by their bizarre bus fire.
He will give Worcester his all and they will surely reap the benefits. On Sunday they open the 2013-14 season away at Leicester. And it will seem like he has never been away.
"What's weird is that is hasn't changed in four years. It's the same scrum. Everybody's had a good pre-season, everyone's going to win the league. I like competing and I like this environment."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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