Steve Diamond interview: 'Our wages can be late, but Worcester owners have kept us alive'

Steve Diamond - GETTY IMAGES
Steve Diamond - GETTY IMAGES

Steve Diamond is driving up the motorway and sounds like he could be straining on a leash.

The 54-year-old has coached in England for around two decades, a spell split neatly in two by a stint with Russia’s national side between 2010 and 2011. Barely, though, can this underdog ever have felt more determined.

“My personal motivation is to show people that I can do this again,” admits Diamond, refreshed from a summer trip to Ibiza.

“I’ve done it time and time again and I want people to know that every time they come up against a team that I’m running, they’ll have to be on their mettle.

“To be honest, I get a buzz out of that. I have achieved reasonable things, not great things. I’ve not won the Premiership five times like the guys at Saracens, but I’ve always operated on lower budgets and I thrive in a lean environment.

“I don’t need ermine and pearls and gold. I don’t need it. I can operate with enthusiastic lads who are probably not as skilful as their opposition but give a s---.”

Frankly, that is just as well. Diamond’s tenacity and thrift make him an ideal fit for his current brief. Worcester Warriors have never finished above eighth in the top flight and have occupied the Premiership’s bottom three in all but three campaigns since 2006. In one of those, the 2019-20 term, they were ninth. In the other two, they won the Championship to earn immediate yo-yo promotion after relegation.

Worcester have had little to cheer these past few years - last year, they finished 11th in the Premiership thanks to tries like this one from James Shillcock again Bath - GETTY IMAGES
Worcester have had little to cheer these past few years - last year, they finished 11th in the Premiership thanks to tries like this one from James Shillcock again Bath - GETTY IMAGES

As revealed by Telegraph Sport, Worcester have been on the receiving end this week of a winding-up petition from HMRC. But Diamond insists he is “not too disturbed” by a financial situation that seems perilous. Indeed, he believes that Worcester’s current owners, Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham, deserve praise.

“Everybody has had a hard time and Worcester have had a hard time,” Diamond says. “The two businessmen who own Worcester are working hard behind the scenes to fund it through clever investments.

“What we haven’t got is a sugar daddy. It [the club] has to live on its own two feet and that’s what we’re doing. They need some admiration for doing that, if I’m honest, and keep me fully in the loop.

“There have been a couple of times when the pay roll has been late. That’s common knowledge and it does happen in other businesses, especially in the summer months when there is no revenue coming in.

“I’m not too disturbed by it. I keep in regular contact with Ted Hill, the skipper, and the senior players about it. HMRC are giving all sports clubs a tough time at the minute because they want their money and I don’t think Worcester are any different.”

After initially arriving in the West Midlands as a consultant last autumn, Diamond took charge of the team upon the departure of Jonathan Thomas in January and hinted that a drastic squad revamp was on the way. He has been true to his word.

Willi Heinz, Melani Nanai, Sione Vailanu and Christian Judge have been among the higher earners to leave with around 15 first-team players filing through the door.  Such an overhaul can initiate friction and uncertainty, but a club insider described Diamond’s presence as both positive and transformative.

Diamond now has “total autonomy” of the rugby operations following the retirement of Alan Solomons this summer. He promised to mine gems in the market and has effectively acquired an entire pack, punctuated by familiar faces from his days at Sale Sharks, to bolster Worcester’s squad.

“We’ve got a great set of lads,” says Diamond, who has been given freedom to spend up to the salary cap yet estimates he will have around £500,000 of head room.

“There are one two that I wasn’t sure of that I had to keep, but they’ve really buckled down in pre-season and I can say, categorically, that we’ve got no tossers.

“You complement them with lads that have come in. Some, obviously, I knew – Valery Morozov, Curtis Langdon, Cam Neild. There a couple of Italian lads, Hame Faiva and Renato Giammarioli, and Fergus Lee-Warner from Western Force.

“We needed a forward pack and we’re really pleased with where we’re at. And I’m not one of those ----ends that say everything is fantastic in pre-season. I’ve got a different job on my hands than most people. I’m trying to get Worcester to be highly competitive, which I know I can do.”

Academy youngsters have been fully integrated into the first-team squad for pre-season and doubling up in the backroom team will help create “a leaner work place”. Nick Easter is overseeing both defence and the forwards as Diamond assumes a head coach-cum-director of rugby hybrid position. Togetherness and toughness are the aims. With those attributes, Diamond believes he can reach the Champions Cup.

“The Worcester scenario was about getting hold of a slightly dysfunctional group of players, for no reason other than the chopping and changing that had happened. I am part of that chopping and changing now, but I want to give them some solidity and, fingers crossed, there won’t be too much change.

“Our role is to win rugby matches and I want to give them confidence. If they believe in what they are being told, then we can do what we’re saying we’re going to do. I’m not going to say that we’re going to finish fourth, fifth or sixth but our target is to qualify for the main European competition.”

Hooker and fly-half, Diamond points out, are areas in which Worcester have strength in depth. Beck Cutting, Langdon and Faiva will spearhead the front row with Fin Smith, Owen Williams and Billy Searle, currently “in the best condition of his life” vying to pull the strings.

“The skill of running a smaller squad, like I did at Sale, is getting your best players out on the field,” Diamond explains. “If these kids aren’t playing at 10, they might be at 15.”

“I want to play an exciting brand of rugby,” he adds. “I don’t want to sound like I’m looking through it with rose-coloured spectacles but our backline could have [Jamie] Shillcock, Owen Williams, Fin Smith, Ollie Lawrence, Duhan van der Merwe, Tom Howe, Alex Hearle to name a few.

Exciting No 10 Fin Smith is one of several fine backs Diamond has to call on this coming season - GETTY IMAGES
Exciting No 10 Fin Smith is one of several fine backs Diamond has to call on this coming season - GETTY IMAGES

“My desire is to be a very difficult team to beat at Sixways. Teams that beat us at Sixways are going to have to be good.”
If sides are forged in the image of their figurehead, Worcester supporters can count on belligerent and bloody-minded performances.

“I’m looking forward to getting under people’s skin – a little bit – again,” Diamond says. “And creating an environment that is absolutely together so we can provide for the spectators who, for donkey’s years, haven’t had much to cheer about. Worcester isn’t a sleeping giant but, potentially, it could be a very successful club.”

Worcester begin the league season by travelling to London Irish before hosting Exeter and then Newcastle. A trip to Gloucester is next before another home match against Harlequins prior to a bye week. Bristol represent the next away assignment.

Typically, Diamond has been planning. Fixtures at Kingsholm and Ashton Gate do not require overnight stays – “like the good old days,” he grins. Worcester can target in-and-out smash-and-grabs. Diamond clearly fancies a few of those.

“We’ve got five games before our break,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll get two or three wins and see where we’re at.”