Head Coach Jonathan Thomas spoke to the media today ahead of Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership match at Exeter Chiefs (kick-off 3.00pm).
Here’s what Jonathan had to say:
On the Sale performance
- I was really proud of the players. It was a very committed performance and we played some exceptional rugby in attack.
- There were a few key momentum swings in the second half but we scored two excellent tries at the end of the game and almost got a third.
There are five games left, what do you want to achieve from them?
- We have set ourselves some internal goals. We don’t want to finish bottom of the table.
- We have two tough away games coming up against Exeter and Wasps but then we have Leicester at home, Newcastle away and Gloucester at home so we think that there are opportunities for wins in those five games.
- We also want to finish the season on a positive note.
What are you expecting from Exeter?
- We gave them a really tough game when we played them here in January.
- The weathermen are forecasting a wet and windy day so we are going to have to adapt to what the conditions throw at us.
- Against Exeter you know it is going to be a forward-orientated game with big men running at you.
- If the weather is as forecast then our kicking game and our defence are going to be important.
You’ve given opportunities to you players like Fin Smith this season, what have you made of his progress?
- The big positive from our season is that we have been able to give opportunities to our young players.
- We want to bring through our homegrown talent but to do that you have to be bold in your selection.
- You have to accept that young players are not going to be the finished article and that they will make mistakes.
But the worst thing that you can do is to give a young player a game and then not pick them again for two months.
- Fin is a talented young player but he is also brave which he showed against Sale. They were calling him out during the game and they tried to run down his channel but I thought he was unbelievably brave and he put in some huge hits for an 18-year-old.
- We are excited about Fin’s potential. There is a huge amount of growth and he is aware of that because he has an old head on young shoulders.
- With Owen Williams coming in next season and with Billy Searle and Jamie Shillcock we are going to have really good competition for places at ten as well.
What will Owen Williams bring?
- We have a lot of young players coming through and we need players with leadership skills who can also be role models.
- Owen has played for Wales, he’s also an experienced Premiership player and we believe that he will add real value to the squad.
- He sets himself high standards and he is also versatile as he can also play at 12.
On the signing of Harri Doel
- Harri’s is an adversity to success story. It was really tough for him to be released by Scarlets having played through all the age groups with Wales.
- But there was an opportunity for him here and he has taken it with both hands. He really impressed in the training game we had against Bristol last month and also the couple of times he has come off the bench.
- While we want to give opportunities to our homegrown players you also have to be smart in your recruitment and look for players who you think can help to achieve their potential.
On the signing of Sione Vailanu
- I have been involved as a coach in the Premiership since 2016 and Sione is someone that I have always admired.
- He was under-rated at Saracens because he was behind Billy Vunipola but when Billy was away, Sione always played well.
- He’s a really powerful player who wants the opportunity to become a first-choice number eight in the Premiership.
Is that it for your recruitment?
- We might have a couple more signings to come but those are to be confirmed.
On David Drake’s appointment as Head of Performance and Head of Strength & Conditioning
- David comes highly recommended but he also really impressed us with his intelligence and knowledge when we interviewed him.
- It’s important with your Heads of Performance, Strength and Conditioning and Medical that they are aligned so that you get the transference from the gym onto the field.
Looking ahead to the summer would you expect Ted Hill and Ollie Lawrence to be selected by England?
- I would love Ted to be involved at international level. If I was selecting the squad, which I am not, he would be in there.
- The way Ted has conducted himself in difficult circumstances this season has been unbelievable.
- He’s a 22-year-old captain but he has a mature head on young shoulders. He’s a true Warrior in the way that he plays the game but also the way he lives and in his mindset.
- Ollie has seen how you need to train and prepare at international level and he has taken his own training to another level.
- We haven’t had too many England players at the club over the years so when you do it really lifts the rest of the group.