Dean Ryan is well aware of the challenges posed by Aviva Premiership Rugby but the Worcester Warriors director of rugby is hoping the experience of new signings such as Donncha O’Callaghan and Phil Dowson can help cement their place in the top flight.
Warriors’ memorable Championship play-off final win over Bristol Rugby meant Ryan ensured they returned to Aviva Premiership Rugby at the first time of asking in his debut season at the club.
By his own admission, Ryan did not have a burning desire to return to club rugby before Worcester’s benefactor and former executive chairman Cecil Duckworth came calling 18 months ago, with the 49-year-old thoroughly enjoying his work as a pundit.
However, having guided one of Aviva Premiership Rugby’s most exciting backlines in recent memory during four years at Gloucester Rugby, he is also under no illusions as to the battle they face to stay in the division.
The former Saracens and Wasps No. 8 has attempted to address the issue with the signings of experienced campaigners such as Ireland great O’Callaghan, ex-Northampton Saints captain Dowson and Springbok centre Wynand Olivier.
He is keen to stress having high-quality players on its own will not be enough though; he is trying to build a real ethos at Sixways and strike the right balance between youth and experience.
Ryan said: “We had Phil (Dowson) in before [promotion was secured] so people like him and GJ van Velze were part of the process before and understand what we are doing. So it is huge testament to them [that they wanted to sign even though] we might not have been out of the Championship.
“Now Donncha (O’Callaghan) and Wynand (Olivier)are just trying to take the percentage of experience up because we are in the Premiership and we would be naive to think we could come up with a bunch of youngsters and start throwing our weight around.
“We have to have a core of players who are strong enough experience-wise to hopefully get the balance right and we think we have got that part right.
“But the longer break means we have a game every week for the next six months and it will be tough for us – there will be no breathing space – so we will have our fingers crossed that the key guys will remain fit for the season.”
Dowson and van Velze will not have to wait long to face their former side Northampton as Worcester host the Saints in their Aviva Premiership Rugby season opener on Friday.
But while survival this season is obviously pivotal for Ryan, the ex-Scotland assistant coach also has one eye on the future.
He explained: “The club is an easy sell to the right person at the right stage of their life and ready for the challenges. It is not an easy life and for a lot of players you are already getting your competitive fix and success at another club.
“The challenge is slightly different at Worcester because it is about trying to build something and being at the start of something where you are trying to be influential in the way the club conducts itself.
“So people like van Velze and Phil Dowson are key people and they are educating the next tier of person about how to be successful.
“We have to get that balance right because Worcester have made mistakes about getting the right type of person before and didn’t have the ability to grow.
“If you look at the league profile of the club over the last ten years then it has not got any better.
“We are trying to do it slightly different so the Ryan Mills’ of this club become an established Premiership contender and he does it alongside Na'ama Leleimalefaga, who gave him the platform to be successful.”