Jake Abbott has never hidden his passion for Worcester Warriors, indeed some would say he has traded on it. Inducted into the Sixways cult as a young child, team-mates still rib him for giving an interview several years ago in which he professed to ‘bleed Blue and Gold’.
Therefore, with so much time and effort already invested in the perennial strugglers he is probably not the most objective commentator when it comes to their current travails.
It will surprise no-one that, even with his club on the brink of another Premiership relegation, the 26-year-old believes in the direction Dean Ryan is taking Worcester, down in the short-term but Abbott hopes this season has been a case of ‘one step backwards to take several forwards’.
Abbott and his loyalist team-mates Chris Pennell and Alex Grove could be accused of a Pythonesque attitude towards Ryan. ‘He is the Messiah, and I should know, I’ve followed a few’. But the crocked openside insists the depth of Ryan’s cleansing is unprecedented at Sixways. While the director of rugby’s predecessors have shifted deck chairs, Abbott believes Ryan is turning the Titanic.
“I have believed in a lot of regimes here but this feels different,” Abbott insists. “It’s the first time I have seen such dramatic changes in terms of our tactics and game-play. We have suffered on the field but we are making such changes.
“I believe it will work next year. When you are making the signings Dean is, there are going to be quite a few players in and out, with that squad he has picked, we can then develop the right culture and identity. Those are all the types of things that need to be bred because they have not happened before.
“We haven’t had the right identity, we haven’t developed the right culture, so we are taking a small step backwards on the field now to get that culture right, that identity right.”
That step backwards was all but confirmed by last Friday night’s defeat to London Wasps. Leading 11-6 on the final play, James Percival slipped off a tackle and allowed Jake Cooper-Woolley to score and Andy Goode’s conversion denied his old team a first win in 22 attempts.
Worcester go to Newcastle on Sunday knowing defeat would leave them 16 points behind with only 20 to play for. Even victory, as cathartic and overdue as it would be, probably wouldn’t be enough to prevent Warriors slipping into the Championship.
The last few months have been as excruciating for Abbott as everyone else, but he maintains the tactical shift and imminent squad clearout will save the patient in the long run.
Worcester have to break their reliance on over-paid, over-the-hill and sometimes literally over-inflated veterans.
“We have had marquee signings here who unfortunately haven’t performed as they should have in the eyes of the fans.
“But I have been a young lad growing up at the club and I have seen a hell of a lot of boys who wanted to play here but unfortunately we have lost them.
“We have lost a lot of lads from the academy which is unfortunate because if you held on to them you would have a lot of young people not just picking up a pay packet but who love the club.
“There are a hell of a lot of players who, if you imagine if they had stayed, it’s almost a whole team there. When you’re at the bottom of the league you can’t always attract the young talent that will develop the culture of the club. So you have to get other players.
“But if you look at the signings Dean is making now, the demographic has changed and because he is such an intelligent man and highly respected younger players are now saying ‘If he’s there, it’s more of an attraction for us’.
“If you are young you are going to get a chance, which is great to hear. Hopefully we can keep making those signings into next season so we can develop the culture and vision and get the rugby right on the field.”
As for his own position, the former England Sevens man is one of several players out of contract at the end of the current campaign.
He revealed on Sunday that he is in talks about staying at Sixways but also that he has ‘other options’, albeit not ones he is actively pursuing at this stage.
It appears Abbott and Worcester have the first refusal on each other and – injury problems aside, given his devotion to cause he is surely exactly the type of young Englishman, whose motives are unimpeachable, Ryan wants at the club.
The feeling seems mutual.