Head Coach Jonathan Thomas spoke to the media today ahead of Saturday’s EPCR Challenge Cup match against Toulon at Sixways (kick-off 5.30pm).
Here’s what Jonathan had to say:
- We are delighted that the match is going ahead. Toulon have had COVID issues recently but the match is on and we are very excited at the prospect of the three-times Champions Cup winners coming here.
- It’s a home game which brings in some important revenue, especially after the disappointment of the Biarritz match being cancelled, and it’s also a fantastic opportunity for our supporters to see one of the top clubs in Europe playing at Sixways.
Were you frustrated that the Biarritz match was cancelled rather than postponed?
- If you want to progress from the group in any competition it’s important that you win your home games so to be awarded only two points for the Biarritz cancellation is frustrating.
- We appreciate that it was not Biarritz’s fault that they could not travel but because of a change of travel policy from the French Government, but it was a game that we had hoped to win.
- But, looking at it as a glass half-full, we are delighted that the Toulon match is going ahead and everyone at the club – players, coaches, staff and supporters – is excited to be playing against the three-times European champions.
What do you think you need to do to progress in the competition?
- All we can do is control the controllables. If we can win at the weekend and against Zebre next week then hopefully it will be enough.
Has the Challenge Cup taken on more significance because there is no relegation from the Premiership this season?
- There is no additional pressure. We want to win every game we play in every competition.
- The approach we have taken this season is to be competitive in every fixture.
- In the second half of last season we did rotate the squad to give our younger players opportunities for growth.
- This season we have been more consistent in our selection and we are very motivated to be competitive in all competitions.
- We have taken ten points from ten in the Premiership Rugby Cup and we also got two points at Newcastle in our opening game in the Challenge Cup last month.
- Apart from the British & Irish Cup when I was still playing, Warriors have never won a cup competition.
- This group of players wants to start playing finals rugby, to be involved in quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals and we want to inspire our supporters. We would love to have a home tie against a big team in the knock-out stages.
- The Premiership is our bread and butter and, as our highest-ever finish is eighth, bettering that is another of our objectives.
Does the fact that Toulon have not played for three weeks mean they will be under-prepared for this match?
- A lot of their team are internationals, their squad is full of very good rugby players and they will not have forgotten how to play rugby after three weeks. They will not turn into poor rugby players overnight.
- Even if players have been isolating they will, as professional sportsmen, have been training.
- The old saying that you need to play to get match fitness doesn’t necessarily apply these days because the conditioning programme the players are on means that they can hit the ground running.
- Toulon will be excited to be back playing again and, from what we hear, they are likely to come here fully loaded.
- So the prospect of facing a fully-loaded Toulon side at Sixways is an exciting one for us and our supporters.
- Sam Lewis withdrew from the Bath match after he suffered a back spasm. He’s fit now and available for selection.
- Billy Searle and Sione Vailanu are back training having completed their isolation period after they tested positive for COVID.
- James Scott is still isolating.
- Andrew Kitchener has got a few bumps and bruises so there is a question mark over whether he will be fit this weekend.
- Melani Nanai is unlikely to play again this season but we should have a more accurate prognosis next week.
On Rory Sutherland’s three match suspension following his sending-off at Bath
- The outcome is a three-match suspension which could potentially be reduced to two matches of Rory does an online World Rugby course.
- We recognised that it was a head-on-head collision but we didn’t think that it warranted a red card.
- The reason we came to that conclusion is that if you go on to the World Rugby website it gives example of what are red card, yellow card or penalty offences for head-on-head incidents and there are videos to illustrate each of them.
- We looked at the videos and because there was some late foot movement involved from Will Stuart of Bath and Rory was quite static at the point of contact, we felt that there was mitigation to reduce it from a red to a yellow card. Unfortunately the judicial panel did not see it the same way.
- As a club we recognise and support everything that is being done around head collisions, head injury assessments and the return-to-play protocols. But we felt that was a freak accident and a rugby incident.