Warriors say thank you to departing players

Warriors are saying farewell to 20 players with more than 1,000 appearances for the club between them.

Those leaving Sixways alongside Chris Pennell, who has made 253 appearances for the club, are two more members of the 100 Club, former captain GJ van Velze and tighthead prop Nick Schonert.

Van Velze, 33, joined Warriors from Northampton Saints in 2014 and captained the side to the Greene King IPA Championship title in his first season at Sixways.

He made his 100th appearance for the club against Wasps at Sixways in January 2020 and his 110th and final appearance as a replacement against Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park last Saturday.

“This month brings me to the end of seven years at Worcester Warriors,” van Velze said.

“I am incredibly thankful and grateful to all the amazing Warriors supporters who make our sport what it is.

“Thank you to all my coaches, performance and medical staff over the years for your care, effort and tireless dedication making it possible for me to enjoy this time.

“Thank you to all my team-mates, as sharing special moments with a group you care about, is one of the most rewarding feelings.

“Lastly, but certainly not least, thank you to my family and especially my wife, Menanta, for their love and unwavering support throughout all the highs and lows.

“We are part of a special rugby family and respect for all is at the heart of rugby’s message.

“Thank you for all the memories. One chapter is closing, but I’m excited to open the next one.”

Schonert, along with Scotland international back-row forward Cornell du Preez have been released early from their respective contracts and been given permission to speak to other clubs.

Schonert, 29, arrived at Sixways from South African side Cheetahs in 2014 and made his debut against Bristol at the start of the 2014/15 Championship season.

Schonert made his 100th appearance against Northampton Saints in May 2019 and played his last match for the club – his 132nd – as a replacement at Newcastle last weekend.

Scotland international du Preez, who joined Warriors from Edinburgh three years ago, has now joined Toulon, one of nine new signings confirmed by the Top-14 club.

The other players who will be leaving Warriors at the end of this month are back-row forward Marco Mama (69 appearances), Samoa international wing Ed Fidow (seven), tighthead prop Conor Carey (15), scrum-halves Jono Kitto (12) and Michael Heaney (39), hooker and team captain Matt Moulds (12) and back-row forward Matti Williams (28).

Scrum-half Luke Baldwin (36), who has spent the past two seasons on loan with Dragons in the Guinness Pro14 will also leave Sixways at the end of his contract.

Prop Callum Black and back-row forward Matt Cox, who have each made more than 100 appearances for the club, announced earlier this week that are retiring from professional rugby.

Scrum-half Francois Hougaard (Wasps), full-back Nick David (Harlequins), fly-half Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors) utility back Scott van Breda (Jersey Reds), lock George Merrick and tighthead prop Richard Palframan (both Newcastle Falcons) have already confirmed moves to other clubs.

“I would like to thank all the players who are leaving for their commitment to the club this season in what has been a challenging year with COVOD-19,” said Head Coach Jonathan Thomas.

“In these unprecedented times players have needed to be adaptable and I can’t thank them enough for their professionalism.

“Five of those who are leaving  – Chris Pennell, GJ, Nick Schonert, Callum Black and Matt Cox – have each made more than 100 appearances for the club and given so much to the team.

“They are all great people and I wish them all the very best for their future ventures. Once a Warrior, always a Warrior.

“In GJ’s case, I played under his captaincy and I’ve now coached him. Every team needs good leaders and GJ, from the outset, demonstrated great leadership skills and led by example at a time when we needed people to stand up.

“He captained the side with distinction. He’s a tremendous professional and anything you ask GJ to do he does it with real commitment.

“He has been a real pleasure to coach and I wish him all the best for the future.”

Director of Rugby Alan Solomons echoed Thomas’ sentiments about the departing players.

“We would like to thank all departing players for their services to the club and wish them all the very best for the future,” said Director of Rugby Alan Solomons.

“In particular, we would like to thank GJ for his tremendous service to the Warriors’ cause over many years.

“He has, during the course of his time here, captained both the club and the team with distinction. His contribution has been immense and greatly valued by all.

“He is a true Warrior and he, and all those who are leaving us, will always be welcome here at Sixways.”