Harlequins have installed a 6ft 3in model bear in their headquarters in a bid to create a new era of aggressive defence, Demetri Catrakilis has revealed.
Fly-half Catrakilis has lifted the lid on new head of rugby Paul Gustard’s latest maverick coaching method.
Gustard’s first big left-field coaching brainchild was Saracens’ ‘Wolfpack’ defensive system, which at one point saw him take a real wolf to training.
The 42-year-old has been coy about some of his more obscure plans, but South African playmaker Catrakilis has shone some light on another of Gustard’s novel techniques.
Gallagher Premiership new boys Bristol have added the Bears moniker to their official club name – and now Harlequins have installed the species as their very own spirit animal.
Asked if Gustard had employed any weird and wonderful methods yet, Catrakilis replied: “There is a bear. There is a massive bear in our team room.
“It looks real – but it hasn’t moved yet. That is going be the basis of how we defend – to be like bears.
“It is nice to use as an analogy, to think of yourself as a superior animal, so that is what he has chosen. Bears are so dominant – we want to be dominant ourselves, we want to make sure we are going forwards and they are going backwards.”
Asked how Gustard unveiled Quins’ newest recruit, Catrakilis said: “There was a curtain over something in the corner.
“I was wondering, ‘what the hell is this?’ I was waiting for someone to come out of the back. I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if it is real, it might be. How big is it?’
“It is massive – about 6ft 3in. I haven’t gone too close to it. It looks like a real bear. It’s a brown bear.”
Harlequins leaked an average 22 points per game en route to a 10th-placed finish in last term’s Premiership, leading to John Kingston leaving the club.
“He has brought a lot of good defensive systems to our game, which is what we needed; so the holes we did have in our game, he is filling,” said Catrakilis, of Gustard.
“I don’t think our culture was bad at all (last year). He might add a little to it, but what he does bring is his knowledge of the game.”
Forward-thinking Gustard has wasted no time in stamping his approach all over the Twickenham outfit.
The former Newcastle, London Irish and Saracens flanker has rebranded Quins’ replacements as “game changers”, and has defended that switch following a quizzical social media response.
Gustard explained he wanted to redefine the role of players who take a seat on the bench, insisting the role is every bit as important as those in the starting XV.
“Why do they have to be called substitutes, why do they have to be called reserves, or replacements?” said Gustard.
“Why can’t we call them something different? We want them to come on and impact the game.
“Somebody somewhere called them substitutes, someone came up with that definition.
“But we’ve given our players the definition of what we want from them, and that’s it.
“For me it’s quite simple, we want them to do something. They are not a substitute, they are coming on to change the game, finish the game, close the game – have an impact.
“And I want these guys to believe in themselves and what they can do.
“I don’t see a big drama about it. Someone wanted to call them reserves, so be it. I might find that funny.”
Even though New Zealand have owned Australia of late, scrum half TJ Perenara doesn’t believe the All Blacks have the Bledisloe Cup locked up.
New Zealand have won the crown 46 times, including last year’s edition, whereas the Aussies have come out on top just 12 times.
The opening clash of this year’s Cup will be held on Saturday and Perenara feels the All Blacks will have to work to maintain the title.
“We don’t own the trophy… so each and ever year it’s up for grabs,” Perenara said.
See his full comments in the video below.
England wing Jack Nowell is preparing to hit the road again after undergoing “almost like a big MOT” this summer.
Nowell missed England’s three-Test South Africa tour in June following a testing campaign last season when injuries hit him hard.
But after having ankle ligament surgery two months ago, the 26 times-capped Exeter back is firmly on course towards reaching maximum output.
“Last season was probably one of my worst seasons,” Nowell told Press Association Sport.
“I felt like I didn’t really get into my stride. There were a couple of injuries, and you always feel like you are chasing.
“Hopefully, I can get into a position where I am not really chasing my fitness or chasing games, and I can just be fit for the whole thing.
“I have almost used this off-season as a real time to sit down and not just rehab my ankle, but some other niggles that I had.
“The ankle was my main thing, but I have also spent a lot of time on my shoulder, neck, knees and my leg strength. It’s almost like a big MOT. (MOT is the annual test of vehicle safety in the UK.)
Asked Jack Nowell about artificial pitches. He's played just four of his 70 Premiership games on them. Unrelated: He played half of last season with ruptured ankle ligaments. https://t.co/pAoSowTaDD— Charlie Morgan (@CharlieFelix) August 12, 2018
“I was devastated to miss the South Africa tour, but sometimes in a Rugby player’s career you almost need to take a step back and say ‘what’s best for my career and what’s best for my body at this time’.
“Hopefully, I will come back better, stronger and have a better season than I did last year.”
Nowell, a 2017 British and Irish Lion, has not started an England Test since the Six Nations game against Scotland at Twickenham last year.
The likes of Anthony Watson, Jonny May, Elliot Daly and Mike Brown filled England’s wing berths during last season’s Six Nations and the South Africa trip, but a fit and firing Nowell would give head coach Eddie Jones another notable selection option.
“The big thing I have always focussed on is playng well for my club,” Nowell added. “If that happens, then other things can come from that.
“At the moment, I don’t have a spot in the England team, so it is for me to fight for that back, get fit for Exeter and start playing well.”
Exeter, Premiership finalists in each of the past three seasons, are likely to again feature prominently among the title challengers.
It is more than two months since Exeter lost to Saracens at Twickenham – a second final defeat of their title-bid triumvirate – and Nowell said: “It was one of the most gutting feelings I’ve had.
“It was twice as bad as the first time we lost (in 2016 against Saracens).
“The first year we were almost happy to be there, to have been there and done it, but then after winning it the following season and then getting to a final again and losing again, was devastating.
“You can feel the hunger in pre-season. The boys are flying, and eager for the season to start.”
*Jack Nowell was speaking at the opening of Exeter Chiefs’ new fitness analysis suite, launched in partnership with Red Bull.