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Paul Morris on why he'll soon stand down as Cinderford's director of rugby

All Areas > Sport > Rugby Union

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Wednesday, 10th April 2024, 09:00

Paul Morris has been Cinderford’s director of rugby for eight-and-a-half years Paul Morris has been Cinderford’s director of rugby for eight-and-a-half years

Paul Morris will stand down as Cinderford’s director of rugby after eight-and-a-half years at the end of the current season.

However, the club’s supporters can rest assured that he will not be cutting all ties with the National League One side.

The 62-year-old will no longer be the main man – current head coach Clive Stuart-Smith will take over as head of rugby – but Morris will still have a role to play at the Forest of Dean club.

His new role does not come with a title but he said: “I will be available to assist Clive and the club across a number of operations. Whatever the club and Clive require me to do I will do – within reason!”

Crucially, for Morris at least, any new role will not require him to be at every Tuesday and Thursday training session - nor does it require him to attend every game.

“I will support Clive and the club throughout next season but will not be seen as often,” he said. “I won’t be on the coach when we go to Darlington or Manchester, I don’t like going north!”

Whether Cinderford will be required to go to Darlington or Sale next season is still unclear however.

With just two games to play, they are in one of the two relegation places in the 14-strong National League One, but Saturday’s thrilling 29-28 win at home to high-flying Rosslyn Park has given everyone at the club hope that they can remain in the third tier of English rugby for a seventh successive season.

If they can win on Saturday at bottom of the table Taunton Titans, who can still beat the drop themselves, and then two weeks later overcome 11th-placed visitors Bishop’s Stortford, who are also still in the relegation shake-up, then they will almost certainly be safe.

Leicester Lions are the other club involved in the battle to stay up, a battle that has become increasingly desperate in recent weeks.

And it’s not something that Cinderford’s supporters have been accustomed to in recent times, because since winning the National 2 South title in 2017/18 with 29 wins out of 30, the club have never finished in the bottom half of National League One.

They were fifth two seasons ago – their best ever finish - and seventh last time out but this season’s on-field difficulties are not the reason Morris has decided to step aside.

“My time has run,” he said with refreshing honesty. “I’m in my 60s and I’m tired, I can’t do any more. I’ve wrung every last drop out of what I can do.

“I’m not sure some of my decision-making, particularly since Christmas, has been at the level I expect of myself and need.

“That’s worried me and given me sleepless nights. It’s been a transitional season in terms of players but nevertheless we shouldn’t be in the bottom two.“

Cinderford have won nine of their 24 games this season and Morris continued: “Taunton winning at Sale on Saturday was unexpected but we jazzed it up by beating Rosslyn Park. Taunton are a very good side but so are we, there are no poor sides in National One.

“We want to get out of the relegation places, we’re sportsmen, we’re competitive.

“I’ve told the players Saturday was a quarter-final, this Saturday is a semi-final and, if we win, then we’ve got a final two weeks later.”

Cinderford beat Richmond 40-34 at home at the end of February but then took just two points from their next three games and Morris continued: “When we beat Richmond we said that had to be the norm but it wasn’t and we’re running out of games now.”

That’s what made the win over Rosslyn Park all the more satisfying for Morris, his first over the London club as a director of rugby.

“Our defence in the last 10 minutes was incredible,” he said. “We showed passion and intelligence.

“We had two 19-year-olds and a 20-year-old in midfield and a 20-year-old debutant - Harry Johnson – on the wing who is normally a full-back. They grew up.”

And Morris was certainly jumping for joy at the final whistle.

“It was an amazing feeling,” he said. “That feeling at the final whistle, when you win, it doesn’t get much better than that.

“I know that I’ve made decisions that have helped us to win that game. I’m not the only one, of course, but I’m the person in charge.”

Next season that will be the responsibility of 40-year-old Stuart-Smith, a former scrum-half with Gloucester, Exeter and Scarlets, and Morris has no doubts about his credentials for the top role.

He was a coach at Cinderford when Morris first became director of rugby and has been head coach since 2019.

“I totally support the decision to make Clive head of rugby, it’s the correct one,” said Morris, who was in charge of Cinderford United for more than four years before taking on the top job.

“We’ve been together a long time. I like working with Clive, I want to continue working with him and I’m happy to work for him.

“He’s well-liked by the players and is an honest, loyal man. His ethics in terms of rugby and his personal life are of the highest standard. I find him inspirational, he’s a talented, talented man. I love him to bits.”

The one-time England Under-19 player has been around the game long enough, however, to know that if Cinderford do stay up this season then 2024/25  is likely to be just as tough. 

“National League One is not an easy league to be in when you are in transition,” said Morris.

“The standard at top end of the division is very, very high, you have to give so much just to compete.

“We’re in the top 36 clubs in the country. It’s not a pub league, it’s not a community league and to be a community club in this division is a very big ask.”

Morris says that Taunton and Cinderford are working with two of the smaller budgets in the division but he insisted: “We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves, we’ve been very privileged to be able to pay our players for the past 20 to 25 years but Cinderford are running to stand still at the moment.

“So we need to find a different way. We need greater financial investment to compete at a national level and if we don’t our supporters have to be understanding of the situation.

“The cost of living crisis has had a huge impact on all sporting organisations and we are not immune. Clubs in National One receive nothing from the RFU. There has to a realistic outlook on the financial situation.”

Morris, who lives in Dursley, has always had a good rapport with the club’s supporters, a rapport that was established almost as soon as former director of rugby Andy Deacon brought him in to run the United side.

“Deacs left the club in 2014 but I’ve always been grateful to him for bringing me to Cinderford in 2011,” said Morris.

“I never wanted to be director of rugby. When Deacs left we had two different people in charge in the next 18 months.

“But things didn’t work out and in November 2015 they gave me the job until Christmas and then till the end of the season.

“I’m very proud to have been director of rugby at Cinderford. I’ve never had a contract, it’s been done on trust and I grew with the role over the seasons. They’ve trusted me and I’ve trusted them.”

So what is he going to miss most when he gives up the position?

“I’m very competitive and I’m going to miss being the person who makes the ultimate decision that can help us win a game,” he said.

And what will he miss least?

“Selection,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation. “I put a lot of pressure on myself because I select the 1st XV and the United.

“And if I leave someone out I always ring them or tell them face-to-face, I have never just messaged anyone.

“It upsets people when they don’t get selected and I get that, I care about it and I care about people.

“But after April I’ll never have to select another side again.”

And while selection can be a difficult part of the game, it also has its rewards too.

“There have been some 10 or so centurions at Cinderford during my time at the club, players who have played more than 100 league games for the club,” said Morris

“These players are different quality.”

And Morris, who has also coached Old Patesians, Cheltenham North and Coney Hill – he was in charge at the North and Coney Hill – knows what it means to be at a one club for a long time.

The Old Patesians were the only club he ever played for and the scrum-half was a key performer as they rose through the divisions in the late 80s and throughout the 90s.

“I’ve been involved as a player, coach and manager on the opening Saturday of the season for the past 43 years,” said Morris.

“Clive and I have a 100 per cent attendance record at Cinderford this season – every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Clive never misses anything, he’s the most committed man I know in rugby.”

Stuart-Smith is just one of many who give up so much time for Cinderford.

“I’ve got so much time for lots of people at the club,” Morris continued.

“There are so many good people. We have the best kitmen, fourth official, groundsman, bus driver, registrar and more. Wonderful people."

Those are the types of people who help you get through the tough times, of course, and there have been some very tough times for Morris as director of rugby.

“That first year we were relegated,” he recalled. “We were bottom when I took over and we ended up finishing third from bottom but that was when three teams went down.

“Our first season in National 2 South was hell, we finished eighth and everyone was complaining.”

They went up the following season with 143 points out of a possible 150, but since then  the club have lost Barry Holmes – he’d been their treasurer for 40 years – and then had to work their way through the pandemic.

Morris played a key role in helping the club through those difficult times, of course.

And while the next few weeks will not be easy as the club look to secure their place in National League One, Cinderford’s supporters can be confident that Morris will be doing everything he can to help them beat the drop.

“Cinderford are very important to me,” he said. “My love for them is unequivocal. Being their director of rugby has been the best rugby experience of my career and they are the club I will always call home.”

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