New London Welsh head coach James Buckland is determined to carry on the good work started under Rowland Phillips, and to build on it.
Buckland was part of the Exiles’ coaching set-up under Phillips which last season guided the club to British and Irish Cup success and fifth place in the Greene King IPA Championship, after losing just one of its last ten matches.
Phillips’ departure to take up the head coach’s position with the Wales Women’s team prompted Buckland to step up to fill the void, with Sonny Parker and Richard Tonkin both taking on additional coaching responsibilities.
Buckland will continue to oversee the forwards and attack, with Parker responsible for the backs and Tonkin the defence and exits. All meaning for a near seamless transition.
“We want to build on what Rowland created last season,” said Buckland. “We want to keep the good things we did, but at the same time we want to continue to evolve our game and keep moving forwards.
“Rowland did a fantastic job of creating a good environment and together with Steve [Lewis – DoR] we’ve assembled a good squad of players going into this season, and I wish him all the best in his new and exciting role.
“The players are already very used to my delivery as I’ve led a lot of sessions this year. It’s obviously slightly different to Rowland’s style.
“As head coach I’ll be taking the lead and working more closely with Ryan [Campbell – Head of Strength & Conditioning] and overseeing the whole coaching team rather than just focusing on the areas I was responsible for.
“We had a really good coaching team already in place under Rowland - there’s a lot of integrity, understanding and unity – and it was important that we preserved that as it’s very difficult to acquire and takes time to develop. Steve [Lewis – DoR], Rowland and I agreed that the most positive way to move forwards was to maintain the dynamic we’ve created through pre-season, which led to myself stepping up to be head coach with Sonny and Richard taking on more.”
Buckland re-joined the London Welsh coaching set up in April 2015 having previously worked under Lyn Jones during the club’s 2012/13 Premiership campaign. But his association with London Welsh doesn’t end there, with the former hooker having made eight appearances for the club on loan from London Irish.
With Welsh’s opening pre-season friendly against Merthyr at The Wern now less than a month away, before the Exiles then open their Championship campaign with a trip to Clifton Lane in September, Buckland is pleased with the way the squad is shaping up.
“Any Championship side with ambition has to be targeting the top four. We’ve managed to keep a strong nucleus of last season’s squad and we’ve been able to add some experience and depth, which will create fierce competition for places,” added Buckland.
“But it’s also about putting together a game plan and a way in which we want to play, which will allow us to express ourselves on the pitch. We can take confidence from our strong finish to last season, but we need to evolve our game, push our boundaries and make sure that we are competitive every week going into the new season.”
That strong nucleus amounts to 22 of the squad which secured London Welsh its third trophy in four years with victory over Yorkshire Carnegie in last season’s B&I Cup final, to which the club has made some exciting additions in the form of Kristian Phillips (Ospreys), Heath Stevens (Worcester Warriors), Glyn Hughes (Moseley), Adam Kwasnicki, James Hallam, Josh Thomas Brown (all London Scottish), Aaron Carpenter (Cornish Pirates), Barney Maddison (Rotherham Titans) and Lovejoy Chawatama (Rosslyn Park).
“We have shaped ourselves up as a side which can play comfortably ball in hand but we also need to be able to go away from home on a wet and cold Friday night and get a result, and we’re already thinking about that scenario,” said Buckland.
“We’ve got a squad with a lot of Championship experience and we’ve been putting our organisations and structures in place. We’ve done a lot of big picture work which has allowed us to provide clarity as to how we want to play, prior to refocusing on the detail within that, and then leading into our pre-season games we will be reviewing the detail again before we head into the league campaign. The lads have been training exceptionally well, both on the pitch and in the gym, with bags of enthusiasm and commitment, which is fantastic and a clear indication of the good group we’ve got. Obviously we won’t really know where we are until we’ve played a couple of games but as a coaching group we feel we’re building nicely.”