Moving leaves Hill on a high

Tim Glover talks to a former Bath and England rugby captain about his move to Gloucester to take up coaching duties
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The Independent Online
Two things happened to Richard Hill in quick succession that came as something of a shock to the system. First, his beloved Bath pulled the plug on him and then he crossed the Avon, if not the Rubicon, by joining Gloucester. Imagine the effect of Michael Atherton moving to Yorkshire or Ian Wright to Spurs - and double it.

"I know how much animosity there is between the clubs," Hill said. "I experienced the feeling when I played for Bath. But it's quite incredible how quickly I've fitted in here. They've made me feel so welcome. The people are very knowledgeable and that's brilliant. I get a large mail bag and their views are quite frighteningly close to the mark."

Hill, kept out of the England Colts team by Nigel Melville, played for England Students while at Exeter University before joining Bath in 1983. He made his England debut the following season and went on to captain club and country, picking up cups galore for the former and grand slams for the latter.

Hill had been at the forefront of Bath's phenomenal success and yet last summer, when it came down to something of a power struggle against John Hall, another former captain, Hall won. "I was very disappointed," Hill said. "I was chairman of selectors and in charge of recruitment but I wanted to stay with Bath on the coaching side. John Hall appeared to be taking over and I was told there wasn't a coaching place for me." The highly rated Brian Ashton had succeeded Jack Rowell as coach. Hill said: "I wasn't angling after Brian's job. I'd have been happy coaching Bath United. I could have stayed as chairman of selectors but that's not what I wanted."

For two years Hill, who works as a consultant three days a week in Bristol, has been coaching England Colts and the England Emerging Players. "I wanted to carry on learning the trade," he said, "but I had no intention of getting attached to any club." That was before Mike Teague began to work on him. If Gloucester is one of England's yeoman clubs, Teague has been one of its salt of the earth sons. While Bath have been lording it over the West Country, and everywhere else, Gloucester, traditional, old fashioned and ruled by an ageing committee that was out of touch with modern developments, were being left behind. The old shire horse was heading for the knacker's yard.

To meet the revolution in the game, the club needed a revolution of its own and they brought in Barrie Corless, who had been successful at Northampton. He left last year; blood spilt, no love lost. The manner of Corless's sacking, swift and silent, angered members and no club in the land has a more faithful membership than Gloucester. Getting rid of the director of rugby was one thing but the die-hards in The Shed, the heart of the Kingsholm crowd, were in lynching mood when they learned of the treatment of three key backs, Neil Matthews, Simon Morris and Paul Holford. Matthews and Morris needed operations but medical insurance for private care was not in place. As for Holford, the club refused to pay his travelling expenses for England A training sessions.

Gloucester, after narrowly avoiding the trap-door of relegation, got the message. Teague was appointed team manager, Alan Brinn chairman and Mike Coley, former marketing manager of the RFU, chief executive and provider of what he calls "pastoral care" for the players. The walking wounded, incidentally, are on the road to recovery thanks to what the club now describes as the best private health scheme in the country.

All they needed was a coach and Teague, a Grand Slam colleague of Hill's, gave the ex-Bath scrum-half the hard sell. "They told me the club had under-achieved for years, they were re-building and the new Gloucester started now," Hill said. He became director of coaching last October. "I could sense the belief and the desire and what was perhaps unique is that the entire club was united."

At 34 Hill is one of the new wave of coaches. Did he learn much from Jack Rowell? "I have a completely different approach to him," Hill said. "I don't read manuals or watch videos. I begin with a blank piece of paper and I listen."

It has been hard going but Gloucester, second from bottom, are unbeaten in their last six games and are beginning to play. It could all rest on the final league match against Saracens, a club whose recruitment policy is a million miles removed from Hill's. "My philosophy is to pick up good young players. We don't have the millions of pounds of Saracens or Newcastle." He has picked up half the England Colts pack, including the entire front row of Phil Vickery, Phil Greening and Trevor Woodman.

"Even when we've lost, the squad has been enthusiastic. They've thought about it and realised we're still making progress," he said. One of the first problems he noticed was that the team would "die" in the last 20 minutes. Under Dave Pointon, they tested the players in November, re-tested them in January and out of the squad of 50 only two had not improved. Hill has taken fitness a stage further by employing, full-time, an ex- Royal Navy physical training instructor, Joseph Picken.

Today Gloucester play Wasps at Kingsholm in the quarter-finals of the Pilkington Cup (in 1987 Hill captained Bath to victory over them in the final) and next month they have a home league match against Bath. There is no escaping the Bath connection. On Sundays Hill is on the Bath touchline, watching his eight-year-old son Joshua playing scrum- half at mini rugby. Gloucester do not have a mini section, which partly explains why Joshua is in his father's old blue, black and white colours rather than cherry and white.

Hill still lives in the Georgian city, next door to Jeremy Guscott and opposite Nigel Redman. When it comes to chatting over the garden fence, their wives cannot get a look in. What Guscott and Redman are probably tired of hearing is Hill's insistence that "leaving Bath was the best thing that ever happened to me."

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