PRESS NOTES | Alex Austerberry (PWR - Rd8)
Director of Rugby Alex Austerberry spoke to the media ahead of Saturday’s top of the table clash with Exeter.
After victory up against Sale last weekend, Austerberry is looking for his side to embrace the challenge of facing the Chiefs this weekend.
“It was a tough battle up at Sale. It was physical and a bit of an arm wrestle for periods, but we played some incredible rugby in periods. Exeter are a very good side and we’ve had a lot of battles with them over the last few years. We’re looking to embrace the challenge and we’re excited to see where we stack up against a side who are going very well in the league.”
This will be the first meeting between the two sides since last season’s semi-final, with Austerberry believing that the support from the vocal home crowd will be something that will give his side an edge against the Devonians.
“There’s been some significant games between these two clubs in the last couple of years when it comes to semi-finals and finals. That in itself brings a rivalry, and it brings an increased focus from the outside. The group are really excited about this game and about the rest of the season. It’s about how we maximise that energy and perform at our best. Every match is exciting, and the players are really motivated, but playing at home gives you something extra. Coming out of the tunnel to that wall of noise is amazing and that will be a big part of it.”
Austerberry also provided an update on fly-half Zoe Harrison, explaining that her return to match action was being managed, having suffered a serious ACL injury last season.
“It’s part of managing her return. The ACL injury she had last season was a bad one and we don’t want to rush any player back. It’s about making sure that everything is right for her and that we don’t push her and force anything that has long-term impacts. We want to manage her for when she’s right to go. Recovery from an ACL injury takes time. You don’t want to throw someone in and make them play 80 minutes straight away. We want to manage her back. I’m not going to rush anything though. Her long-term health and long-term rugby is the most important thing. It’s been a really joined up process with England in terms of Zoe’s recovery and it’s been a really good showcase of how we can all work together to help the player. We’re all working towards Zoe being back playing before the Six Nations to give her the best chance to be involved there should form, and fitness allow.”
A number of young players have stepped up into the squad this season, with a large contingent of the current squad having come through local rugby clubs in and around the area. Austerberry explained that giving local junior players the aspiration goal of playing elite-level rugby was something that he feels can be a really powerful tool for the growth of the game at domestic and international level.
“Building your domestic presence over time is really powerful. It’s great that we’ve got a lot of players here who have come through the likes of Welwyn Rugby Club and that’s really powerful for us. If you’re a young player at that club or any other club, you can see people who have been in your position and aspire to play at this level or to become an international. I think that’s really such an important message.”
This season, Austerberry has had a number of ‘selection headaches’ with players putting their hands up for selection throughout the squad. The DoR made the point that it was this level of competition within the group that has helped drive his squad and the standards they have set for themselves in this early part of the season.
“It isn’t about just managing the 23. We have a squad for a reason, and everyone has a part to play. It’s about choosing the right balance when you select a side and being able to make those subtle changes you need. You’ve got to create opportunities and give everyone a shot to earn an opportunity to play in training. If people train well, that is rewarded and that then gives us selection dilemmas. Those decisions sometimes give me a headache, but it’s one that I want to have. Having multiple options is fantastic, and it allows us to paint different pictures for sides. We need to keep evolving and the best way to do that is by giving players opportunities to shine.”