Big-name foreign imports have arrived in Aviva Premiership Rugby and helped to drive standards even higher, but according to former Australian skipper James Horwill, the key to success is about building bedrock of home-grown stars.
Horwill has pinned his colours to the mast at Harlequins and the Australian second row has been impressed with the number of Academy players forcing their way into boss John Kingston’s thinking this season.
The likes of Jack Clifford, Luke Wallace and Charlie Matthews are all making strides at The Stoop and it’s the last of that trio that has caught Horwill’s eye this season.
Matthews, who has already made more than 100 appearances for Harlequins at just 25, has represented England U18s and took part in the Junior World Championships in 2010 and 2011.
After a successful 2013/14 season, Matthews was also called into the England XV squad to play the Barbarians and Horwill has enjoyed packing down alongside the Harlequins Academy graduate again this season.
The likes of Horwill and Nick Evans have certainly added to the experience and knowhow at The Stoop in recent years but the core of English players and Academy graduates at Kingston’s disposal is the key to future success, insists the Australian second row.
“Charlie Matthews is certainly a guy that has been working very hard away from Aviva Premiership Rugby games to work on certain things in his game,” said Horwill.
“The confidence he has now when he’s playing is unrecognisable. He started off the year with a few injury concerns, which would have hampered the start he would have liked but he has a lot of matches under his belt now.
“It is great to see he has been doing so well and he is a very good student who likes watching the game and studying it.
“We spend a lot of time talking about line outs and things like that so I think he wants to learn and I see that as being a real benefit for him.
“The more you can have guys that want to be at the club long-term, I think you can build that foundation of culture and players that want to play for the club and the shirt.
“The more people you have like that coming through the club the better that is, you can have the short-term benefit of players but Harlequins has made it clear that they want to be a sustainable club long-term and that this a big part of what they do.
“They have always mentioned they have a very good academy system; you look at the fact they are able to produce teams with a full English qualified bred pack.
“I think that shows that this form of development pathway and sustainability is necessary in such a cutthroat industry. The more we can have guys staying around the better.”
Horwill was speaking at the launch of this year’s Aviva #DriveSafer campaign alongside team-mates Evans and Tim Swiel.
As part of the campaign, Aviva and all 12 Premiership Rugby clubs are highlighting the dangers of dangerous driving caused by distractions, with a particular focus on the use of mobile phones.
“Road safety is something that is very important, we want to keep the roads as safe as possible,” said Horwill.
“I think it’s great that Aviva are trying to keep Britain’s roads as safe as possible. There are a lot of distractions when it comes to driving, so it can only be a positive that they are helping to raising awareness of the dangers involved when using mobile phones.
“If you get a call or text it can wait as the consequences can be terrible.”
Harlequins sit in sixth place in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table but Horwill admits the ambitions for this season still remain high.
Kingston’s men face a make or break series of fixtures during the RBS Six Nations and Horwill admits now is the time for the club to deliver in Aviva Premiership Rugby if they want to hit their pre-campaign objectives.
“We want to get as far as we can, obviously, this next month is very important to us, and we have some key matches,” he said.
“Obviously, Bath, Leicester and Gloucester on the bounce will be tough, these three teams are sort of in and around us in the table.
“It will be crucial land, if we can get that right we should get in that top six to qualify for Europe next year and push on to get to that top four but we must make sure that we perform week in week out.”
Harlequins are proud to support Aviva, title sponsor of Premiership Rugby, on their #DriveSafer campaign and help raise awareness of dangerous driving. Download the Aviva Drive app to see how safe your driving is at www.aviva.co.uk/car-insurance/drive