Press Conference Notes 24.02.21

Head Coach Jonathan Thomas spoke to the media today ahead of Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership match against Gloucester Rugby at Kingsholm.

Here’s what Jonathan had to say:

On the recruitment of Willi Heinz for next season

  • In our recruitment we are looking for players who can be role models for our talented youngsters to accelerate their development.
  • Willi is an experienced player who is proven not only in this league but in Super Rugby.
  • He has captained sides in both the Premiership and in New Zealand and he has also demonstrated strong cultural leadership off the pitch. He has done that recently with England and Eddie Jones speaks highly of him.

You had a blank Saturday with the cancellation of the Newcastle Falcons match due to COVID, how have you used the time?

  • We have talked a lot about our vision of being a top six club. At the moment we are eleventh in the table so there is still some way to go.
  • The big thing for us is self-awareness, being honest about where you are and what you need to do to improve.
  • There is no point making it fluffy. The honest answer is we need to get better. We will get better with the players that we are recruiting but we can also get better in our training and conditioning and that is something that we have worked hard on over the past two weeks.

How do you keep everyone in the squad happy with no Premiership Rugby Cup or Shield or Championship matches so far this season?

  • We try to do the best we can to ensure that the young players are fully involved in all our training sessions but getting them game time is difficult at the moment.
  • James Scott has gone on loan to Glasgow Warriors and it was good to see him get 20 minutes against Ulster last Friday.
  • We have strong links with a number of Championship clubs and, in the past, that has enabled our younger players to get invaluable senior experience.
  • The Championship season is due to start next month. We will have a look to see if the COVID testing programme that will be put in place will allow us to send players out on dual registrations.

On facing Gloucester

  • We have not won at Kingsholm since 2009. The beauty of history is that you can either be scarred by it or you can walk straight into it.
  • We talk about legacy and leaving the jersey in a better place than we found it. We missed an opportunity against Exeter at home a few weeks ago to make a statement. What a great statement it would be to be the first Warriors side to win at Kingsholm since 2009.
  • History is against us but fortunately history doesn’t come into it when you are on the field in those 80 minutes.
  • It’s disappointing that there will be no fans in because Kingsholm with a packed Shed is a fantastic place to play. But it will still be a physical, attritional game.

Are you surprised that Gloucester have struggled this season?

  • Nothing surprises me in the Gallagher Premiership because it is such a top competition. The margins are so fine that there is not much between top and bottom.
  • Gloucester are similar to us in that they have a group of new coaches and they have also faced the challenge of not having a usual pre-season in which to prepare and to build the groundwork and foundations of creating a team and a style of  play.

How do you welcome the news that we could have crowds back in grounds by the middle of May?

  • They teased us a bit in December when we were allowed 2,000 in for the games against Bath and Ospreys.
  • But it has been very tough. Forget about rugby, it has been tough for everyone. But it now feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel with vaccinations and Boris’ road map.
  • When we played Gloucester in our first match behind closed doors in August it was a very strange experience and it felt like a training session.
  • Someone showed me some stats the other day which showed that the number of sides winning away from home has increased dramatically in matches played without crowds.
  • That shows what a big psychological factor home support is. We have missed our supporters and, although the players have adapted well, it is not the same without them.
  • One of the factors in me coming back here was that I enjoyed playing in front of the Sixways crowd when I was here before. I was looking forward to seeing some familiar old faces, but I haven’t been able to do that yet.

Injuries

  • Chris Ashton will come into contention for Saturday.
  • Francois Hougaard has recovered from his shoulder injury.
  • GJ van Velze is fully fit having recovered from his dislocated shoulder.
  • Billy Searle will miss the Gloucester match but we hope he will be back next week.