Rugby Union: New coach outlines plans for Kingsholm

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The Independent Online
PHILIPPE SAINT-ANDRE yesterday revealed that his first duties in charge at Kingsholm will be to prune the Gloucester squad and introducing a more "collective" style on the field.

The former French captain, who took over as the Gloucester coach when Richard Hill was sacked earlier this week, has set himself the target of a top six place in the Premiership next season - even though he will be in charge of a smaller squad.

After three days of talks with players and club bosses, Saint-Andre disclosed that the squad will be cut by about 10, from 38 to 28. There will be a hard core of full-time professionals, although a few of the squad will have to accept part-time contracts and find other jobs, he said.

Despite the reduced manpower, Saint-Andre is ambitious to improve Gloucester's fortunes. "Top six is the target I have set myself for next season if my budget is the same as this season," he said. "If Gloucester are not in the top six at the end of next season I shall stop and say: `it's my mistake'."

Saint-Andre, struggling with his limited command of English, said he already had a lot of new ideas to bring to Gloucester. His first priority, he said, was to select a team to beat Harlequins in the Tetley's Bitter Cup quarter final at Kingsholm on 27 February. "I want, if it is possible, to win the cup this season," he declared. "It will be very good for Gloucester and for the supporters. I hope that Kingsholm will be very, very full and one thing is sure: the 15 or 20 players who are on the field will play with a big heart and a lot of passion. We will play for a win, that is for sure."

Saint-Andre said he had hardly slept for the last three days since the shock sacking of Hill and his appointment as coach. "It is a big surprise in France - the first time a Frenchman has become a coach of an English rugby club," he said. "My telephone has not stopped ringing with calls from the French TV, radio and newspapers."

He said he was relishing the challenge of improving Gloucester's fortunes - but his wife, Sylvie, has been less enthusiastic. "My wife, she is not very happy," he said. "She saw me always when I was just a player here compared to when I was in France when she never saw me. Now I shall be very, very busy again and she will not see me much. She said it was not possible but I like responsibility and the challenge."

Saint-Andre said he would look for experienced recruits to strengthen the pack, which is light on internationals compared to the backs. He also pledged that no player would have to turn out more than 26 to 28 times in a season - compared with the 35 to 40 games many are currently forced to endure. "The players are too tired," he said. "Steve Ojomoh has already played 21 games this season - it is too much."

His aim will be to establish a squad system. "We have very good individual players but they need... to play more collectively," he said. Saint-Andre also hinted at a change of captaincy - but refused to say who was likely to replace Dave Sims.