Head Coach Jonathan Thomas spoke to the media today ahead of Saturday’s EPCR Challenge Cup match against Zebre in Parma (kick-off 3.15pm GMT).
Here’s what Jonathan had to say:
Can you still qualify for the Round of 16?
- We spoke last week about the importance of winning our home games. We didn’t do that against Toulon so it’s a bit of an uphill task now.
- The new format of the competition takes a little bit of getting used to. We were all familiar with the old format when you knew that third place in the pool wouldn’t be enough to take you to the knockout stages.
- That’s no longer the case so we are still in the mix and we go to Zebre with the intent to be competitive and to win the game.
- Consistency is important if we are to do that. Against Toulon we played some good stuff in the first 30 and the last 20 minutes but in that middle 30 minutes we didn’t fire any shots because of the pressure Toulon put on us at the breakdown.
- We would have liked to react differently both tactically and in our intent.
- But there were a lot of young players on the pitch on Saturday who have not played against French opposition before or a top European side like Toulon so it was a good learning experience for them.
- They, like Saracens, Bath and Toulon have had COVID issues but we have heard nothing from Zebre to suggest that the game will not be played.
- As we have discovered with all our recent opponents, if a team has had down week or weeks because of COVID they are fresh and raring to go.
- Zebre also have a new coach who is forward orientated and so you would expect an emotional response from their players.
- They are a physical side who will be good at the breakdown and they also have some good athletes so it will be a good test for us.
- I played against Italian opposition for 12 years in the Pro-12 and whenever you came up against Treviso or Zebre there was never an easy game over there.
- It is going to be a real challenge and I have stressed to the players that Zebre are proud rugby men and we must have respect for them as a team.
- A lot of big European teams have been humbled in Italy over the years. It’s an exciting challenge because we don’t normally play against Italian opposition.
What challenges did Toulon pose?
- In the Premiership every team is familiar with each other. There are slight variations of identity, how they scrum, how they maul and they attack and defend in a similar fashion.
- Toulon made low chop tackles so they were able to get over the ball quickly.
- When you are an experienced campaigner and you have played a lot you are able to adapt in those moments. On Saturdays we didn’t react quickly to the curve ball Toulon threw at us.
- We had a good review on Monday, the players were disappointed but they will be better for the experience.
- We are committed to bringing through home-grown players but turning them into Premiership or European players doesn’t happen at the flick of a switch.
What sort of team will you take to Italy?
- We will take a reasonably strong side and one that is highly motivated to do well out there.
- There will be opportunities for guys who have been benching or who have not been involved regularly recently.
- Hopefully we will come back to prepare for Northampton next week in a good place.
England announced a 36-man squad for the Six Nations today without any Warriors players in it. Are you disappointed?
- I’m disappointed for Ted Hill and Kyle Hatherell who had been mentioned as possible picks and for Ollie Lawrence who has been injured recently so hasn’t had the chance to press his claims.
- Ted and Kyle have both played consistently well for us this season.
- You also have to remember where Kyle has come from. His story is a fantastic example for all young players that you should never give up on your dreams.
- The back row is always one of the most hotly contested areas for selection and none more so than in English rugby at the moment.
- Both Ted and Kyle are versatile and adaptable. Ted has played most of rugby for us at six but over the last couple of months he has been at seven with Kyle at six.
- Ted played some of his junior rugby at lock and he is an excellent lineout jumper. One of the best games he had for Warriors was at Newcastle at the end of last season where he played in the second row.
- Kyle played most of his rugby for Jersey Reds at lock, he started this season there and he has moved up to lock from six on a number of occasions since then so that is a genuine option for him.
- Although Ted is a young man he has been in this environment for some time. Kyle is quite raw having just come into the Premiership from the Championship so we wanted to give him the certainty of playing in one position. But he could play at number eight or at tighthead lock.
- Marc Thomas dislocated an ankle against Toulon. He will need an operation and will be out for between four and five months.
- It’s very unfortunate for Marc because he has worked really hard on his fitness this season and each time he has had an opportunity he has picked up an injury and this one is quite severe.
- Melani Nanai is still going through a consultation process so we are still waiting for a full prognosis.
- Andrew Kitchener suffered a dead leg against Bath but we expect him to be available this weekend.
- Perry Humphreys had to withdraw from the side against Toulon because he returned a positive COVID test. He will come out of isolation on Friday but he will not be considered for selection this weekend.
How frustrating is it for Melani facing another long lay-off?
- Melani adds so much value both on and off the field. He inspires players around him with what he does.
- Although he is a quiet individual he has got a huge rugby intellect. He builds good relationships and gives good one-to-one feedback to some of our younger players.
- It’s difficult for all players who have long-term injuries, not just Melani. But we are very fortunate at Warriors to have Lynette Cutting as our Education Officer.
- It’s important that players appreciate that there is life outside rugby and Lynette provides an invaluable service by helping them get on educational or vocational courses and developing skills away from rugby.
- So many players have got qualifications through Lynette. It’s a brilliant service that Lynette provides and she works with all our players, not just those who are injured.