They may have lost their influential coach but ambitions remain “exactly the same” for Bahrain next season – they are targeting West Asia Premiership glory, and even Dubai Sevens success too.
Welshman Louie Tonkin revitalised the sleepy west Asia nation during his three-year tenure, leading them to the West Asia Premiership title last season – a third trophy in as many years.
And even though he has since departed – taking up a position within Gallagher Premiership side Exeter Chiefs’ academy – it does not mean it is back to the drawing board for Bahrain, according to new assistant and forwards coach Lindsey Gibson.
“Our aim for the season has got to be exactly the same. I don’t care what team you are, you go into the season with the ambition of wanting to win, and that doesn’t change,” said the influential Scotsman, who has been a key part of the playing staff under Tonkin.
The 29-year-old hooker, who will assist another influential player in Adam Wallace, who replaces Tonkin as head coach, knows rivals will see the departure of the Welshman as a sign Bahrain are weakened. But after ascending to the top spot in west Asia, he says the club have no plans to relinquish it.
He added: “If you fall short of achieving that then you pick out the successes you’ve had along the way. We’ve had good progress over the last few years and now we’re in the position where everyone wants to take us off the top of the league.
“(Dubai) Exiles pushed us really close (Bahrain beat them 23-21 in the WAP play-off final) and (Jebel Ali) Dragons and (Abu Dhabi) Quins are never far away. And you know the new team coming into the league (UAE Conference champions Dubai Tigers) will be competitive as well.
“We’ll aim to win the league and the play-offs again, that has to be the aim. We wouldn’t mind a bit of success at the Dubai Sevens too. I’d like to see the boys get to the final.”
Gibson and Wallace are both long-time Bahrain players and have learned under Tonkin since he arrived and transformed the club in the summer of 2016. And Gibson admits the duo will not rip apart the structures Tonkin put in place, while also bringing their own ideas to the table.
“We’re both excited about what we can bring that’s slightly different,” he added.
“We’re not going to go with the exact same playbook although we’re not going to rip it up and start again either.
“Louie has been massive for us and we’ve learnt a massive amount off him over the last three years, me in-particular as I work in the office with him on a day to day basis, so I’ve picked his brains over that time because he’s such a smart coach.
“You could always tell he’d go on to make that next step. As with anyone who gets into coaching though you’ve always got your own ideas and things you want to try so we’ll look to make slight changes and, if they work, happy days. If they don’t, you live and learn.”
In addition to Wallace and Gibson, Tom Hanratty will continue in his role as the team manager while Alana McConalogue comes on board as strength and conditioning coach.
It is a role Gibson is now relishing ahead of the 2019/20 campaign, but he admits he wasn’t keen at all when Tonkin first suggested the idea.
“To be honest I wasn’t too happy with the idea when it was first put to me, in fact I flat out refused when Louie suggested it,” said Gibson.
“’No chance I’m coaching yet, I’m not ready for it’. I wasn’t ready to hang up the boots yet. But he said I wouldn’t have to do that, I could take on the role Wallace has had for the last few years. Being assistant coach and captain figure.
“I’ve kind of been doing it anyway so it’s not an issue. Now, I’m quite excited to see what I can bring.
“It’s definitely the best way forward for the club I think. I took convincing because of my inexperience in coaching adult rugby, but now I’ve come round and I’m quite excited about it.
“Me and Wallace both know the squad and it’s an exciting squad of boys. Bringing someone else in could have upset them if he’s not the right candidate or the right fit.
“So it’s the best way forward. And we have a coaching team in place here now, which is something Louie pushed for. Now we have the four of us working together which will make things a lot easier.”
Bahrain’s pre-season has unofficially started, with the players remaining out running and in the gym, but Gibson says they will be back on the pitch properly the first week in August as they build towards defending their Western Clubs Champions League title in September.
They will face UAE Premiership champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Sri Lanka’s Kandy.
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