Press Conference Notes 22.12.21

Head Coach Jonathan Thomas spoke to the media today ahead of Sunday’s Gallagher Premiership match at Saracens (kick-off 3.00pm).

Here’s what Jonathan had to say:

We seem to be entering another period of uncertainty with matches cancelled or postponed because of COVID and talk about matches being played behind closed door again.

  • You don’t have to be rocket scientist to work out that sports clubs are going to struggle if they have games called off or played behind closed doors.
  • I know that the Premiership clubs and Premiership Rugby are working together and are asking that if measures are going to be introduced that restrict attendances, what support will there be for Premiership club and how quickly is that support going to be available?
  • We have good ticket sales for our Premiership Rugby Cup match against Gloucester Rugby next week and festive fixtures are always big money earners for clubs.
  • The health and safety of the general public has to come first but if new restrictions are going to be brought in then Premiership clubs need to know what support there is going to be and how quickly they will be able to access it.

Have you had to change anything following the spread of the omicron variant?

  • Over the last 18 months or so we have learnt to be adaptable.
  • The health of the nation comes first in a pandemic and, with the spread of the new variant, we have re-introduced some of the COVID protocols that were in place earlier this year.
  • They are mainly around meetings and eating, areas inside where people are likely to come into close contact.
  • The players took it upon themselves to cancel their Christmas party which was due to take place the day after the Newcastle Challenge Cup match.
  • All credit to the players for trying to make sure that we try to keep each other safe.

On the Biarritz postponement

  • It was frustrating for everyone, not least our supporters who were looking forward to a big home game just before Christmas.
  • We were ready to play and so were Biarritz. It wasn’t called off because of a COVID outbreak but as a result of the French Government tightening up restrictions on travel to and from the UK.
  • So neither club was at fault but it was very frustrating.

Will the match be rearranged?

  • It went down as a postponement so the intention is to play it, it’s a case of trying to find a slot in a busy schedule.
  • After the Gloucester cup match we have a down-week and then we are into a congested bloc between January and the end of April.
  • Normally you get the odd spare weekend in March and April but not this year.

On facing Saracens

  • We know that Saracens had to cancel their Challenge Cup match at Pau because of a number of COVID tests in the camp.
  • But they will have completed their isolation period by the end of the week and we expect Sunday’s game to go ahead.
  • You have to respect what Saracens stand for as a club. When they face adversity they come out and show what a champion team they are.
  • They have played really well this season, there a few new combinations and they used their time in the Championship as an opportunity to bring through some of their young players.
  • But they have still got a lot of international players and quality and depth in their squad.
  • We recognise that they are again in adversity, not just with COVID, but having lost to Exeter and Edinburgh and they will want to bounce back this weekend.
  • But our focus is on ourselves and going there with a Warrior Mindset.
  • There will always be moments of adversity, sometimes big, sometimes small, during a game and our ability to respond to adversity has improved over the last six to eight weeks.
  • I must praise the players for the way they have faced challenges in recent weeks with COVID and the Newcastle postponement. They have taken everything in their stride.

Are you a fan of Boxing Day rugby?

  • Historically Boxing Day is associated with derby matches and big crowds and they were some of the best games to play in.
  • Saracens is not quite a local derby but we know that they will have a bumper crowd, they a great side and it will be a great occasion.

What have you made of Kyle Hatherell’s progress this season?

  • Last year, when we started looking at the footage of Kyle playing for Jersey in the Championship, we felt that he could make an impact at Premiership level because of his physicality.
  • I then had a Zoom call with Kyle and I knew that he had a growth mindset, that he would work hard, listen a get better.
  • He’s a bit of a late bloomer because he hasn’t come through the academy system and he’s built some character and resilience because of that.
  • His stats for his carrying game this season are up there with any back-row forward in the country .
  • There is still a lot of growth in his game and he is getting better all the time.


  • Ollie Lawrence will be out for between three and four weeks with a hamstring injury. He had a scan last week and the injury is not as bad as we first feared.
  • Francois Venter has come through his head injury assessment and is available for selection.
  • Niall Annett has recovered from his head knock and is available for selection.
  • Gareth Simpson has recovered from his rib injury and is available for selection.
  • Rory Sutherland is 50-50 for this weekend because of the dead leg he suffered against Wasps.
  • Melani Nanai has completed his isolation period and is available this weekend.
  • Beck Cutting has returned a positive COVID test and his half-way through his isolation period. We expect him to be back for the Gloucester cup match.
  • Willi Heinz is probably going to be a similar time frame to Ollie Lawrence for his recovery.