Harlequins back-row James Chisholm says players taking responsibility for themselves has been key to their upturn in form since head of rugby Paul Gustard’s surprise exit last month.
Quins fans could have been forgiven for wondering what direction their club was heading after Gustard left by mutual consent, but they needn’t have worried.
Rather than flounder, Quins have regrouped from two wins in their first six Premiership games to record consecutive victories against Wasps, Bath and Leicester.
Chisholm thinks that the key to that is players realising that they had to stop waiting for someone to fix things for them.
He said: “We’re the ones out there, we’re the ones making decisions on game day, and that is crucial to being successful.
“In a lot of rugby clubs, it’s very easy to get in a way of leaving it down to coaches to organise, to coach the players and lead them.
“We’ve kind of been thrown in at the deep end, we’ve had to coach each other, you have to push each other.
“The world keeps spinning, you keep going. It’s a shame to see anyone lose their job or leave the club or whatever may have happened, but you just keep going.
“The mood is good and everybody is hungry to win rugby matches. Underneath everything that is seen and heard, that’s what we’re about.”
Up until this season, that is not something Quins tended to do away from home, where their form was shaky compared to their record at the Stoop.
But this campaign is anything but ordinary, with fans locked out of grounds and Quins already having seen a win awarded to Worcester due to a COVID-19 outbreak in their squad.
They have won all four of their away fixtures, but just one of four games at the Stoop, beating Leicester 37-24 last Saturday, and it is something Chisholm said they are keen to put right.
He added: “I would love to play at the Stoop on a Friday night with a packed house and be able to get into Richmond afterwards, but it’s business as usual.
“We’ve talked about playing there and how special it is, and there’s no crowds, but you shouldn’t need a crowd to play at a level some of these guys are at.
“It’s everything. It’s travelling in, it’s seeing Twickenham, it’s getting into the Stoop early and stretching and the social side of it.
“But the new normal is going alright, and we’re incredibly lucky to maintain our routine and schedule and be carrying on.”
Chisholm was one of several players to sign new contracts last month, along with scrum-half Danny Care and the hugely promising Marcus Smith, who he describes as a ‘wise head on young shoulders’.
The same could be said for the 25-year-old Chisholm, who made his 100th appearance for Quins in December, having joined the club’s academy eight years ago.
He is no longer the bright young thing who was named World Rugby Junior Player of the Year in 2015, but he is at ease with the responsibility that comes with being an established member of the squad.
That is partly thanks to the influence of his older brother and Quins full-back Ross, who also agreed new terms in January.
Chisholm said: “I’ve learnt a lot off of him. He may not be a guy that plays every week or plays for England or whatever, but he’s an incredibly intelligent rugby player.
“Especially at the start of my career, it was really great to have someone close to me who had done it all before and who was four years ahead of me.
“I want to play as many times for the club as I can. I want to make the 200 club and I do want to win player of the season because I want to be the best.”
But it is not all serious for Chisholm, who moonlights as a Sean Dyche impersonator thanks to an uncanny resemblance to the Burnley manager – complete with tie and goatee.
The back-row was left star-struck when the real Dyche visited Quins’ training ground two years ago, describing it as ‘the best day of my life’ and suggesting he might retire in Burnley.
Even so, Chisholm can feel aggrieved he was not mentioned in Dyche’s viral pre-match press conference in which he spoke of his love of lookalikes.
Chisholm joked: “I don’t think I made the cut in his interview, which was absolutely disgraceful.
“But I’m very happy to look like the best manager in the Premier League. I think I’d be welcomed as a hero if I retired there, wouldn’t I? It’s still a possibility.
“He just seems like a good guy that has his standards and knows what his team’s about – we do it this way, we work really hard and we achieve what we achieve.”
That is surely a philosophy Quins can take forward for the rest of this season and beyond as they aim for silverware.
Chisholm explained: “I don’t think that we’re deluded. It’s going to take some doing to finish first this season.
“But we’ve got a lot of ambitious guys in there, a lot of talented players. We just want to win something.
“We’re just looking to finish as high as we can and get in the mix. Because in knockout rugby, especially with our group of players, you never know what can happen.”
James Chisholm was speaking on behalf of Gallagher’s ‘Tackling Tomorrow. Together’ campaign.
The initiative is supporting local businesses and championing their resilience during the pandemic through Gallagher’s position as title partner of Premiership Rugby.
Featured image credit: Gallagher Premiership Rugby