'Awesome character': The new recruits impressing most at Worcester
No other club could match the off-season upheaval at Worcester when Premiership Rugby published its comprehensive list of all the player ins and outs at the 13 clubs ahead of the new league season that began in England last weekend. A deep breath was needed counting up all the comings and goings at the Warriors, 21 players ushered out through the exit door at Sixways and 18 others arriving in through the entrance.
It must have made for a headache on the training ground initially, everyone trying to remember all the new names, but it also surely made for a different type of vibe enveloping the club compared to the mood that existed throughout a miserable campaign last season.
Worcester finished bottom of the pile with just a single on-pitch win to their credit in the matches that did get played, but they are now heading to Harlequins, the home of the defending Premiership champions, this Saturday with a fresh pep in their step thanks to the enthusiasm of all the new personnel and the consequences of last weekend’s confidence-building home win over London Irish.
It was last January when Jonathan Thomas was promoted to head coach at the club, having arrived in the previous summer as an assistant from Bristol, but the team he inherited has now been overhauled by all the many new faces. Put the Worcester boss on the spot as to who has been standing out so far and a particular signing from Wasps – a 26-year-old Tongan international back-rower – was the recipient of some attention-grabbing kudos.
“First and foremost, all of the new signings, staff and players, have brought really good energy into the club, they really have,” chirped Thomas when asked by RugbyPass what his early impressions are of the new group he has assembled at Worcester for the club’s latest Premiership campaign.
“I genuinely have heard that…”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 21, 2021
“Really diverse players. You have got someone like Sione Vailanu who has just been an awesome character since coming in from Wasps. Just a really good guy, good energy, good humour – trains bloody well as well. I hate singling out players because they have all added value. Like, Willie Heinz has got huge experience but he is also really selfless and has a good mindset for growing other players, especially our younger players.
“He has been brilliant in and around there, as has (Will) Chudley, Owen Williams, Scott Baldwin. When I spoke to you [RugbyPass] last season, that was the intention around bringing in these players. We have got a lot of young players – Ted (Hill), Ollie Lawrence – guys who are at a young age and are leaders themselves, but those guys who we have brought in have been real mentors and have brought really good value on and off the field.”
Last Saturday’s 36-24 win over London Irish was a tonic for the new broom, but especially for Thomas as he had been without an on-pitch victory since taking on the head coach role in early January. After so many defeats in 2021, he would have been entitled to revel in the moment but exuberant celebrations aren’t his style.
“Unfortunately with my personality, I was just thinking about Quins straightaway. That is the challenge of being a coach, do you turn your attention straightaway to the next week? I did have a beer or two with the coaches but I was looking forward to the Quins game. No one in the club is getting carried away from winning one game. It’s just a win and it doesn’t mean anything in terms of we have got a lot of hard work to do to be the team that we want to be.
“Momentum is such a huge thing, confidence is such a huge thing and the players are human beings – they have emotions the same as anybody else. We have talked a lot about it. Sometimes it is the elephant in the room you don’t talk about. We have talked about how we’re feeling, the anxiety around the game, how we are going to manage our thoughts in the big moments.
“We have done a lot of work with a sport psych on those things as well around our breathing in games which is not unique, a few other teams are using that as well. We come at it from a coaching point of view but then there is a lot of different aspects you need help with. The mind is as important as anything and we have done a lot of work on that.”
Warriors' potential England stars were one of the 3?? reasons why Scott Baldwin was tempted to leave Premiership champions Harlequins for Worcester ??#England #Worcester #HARvWORhttps://t.co/k2T1RrSyjf
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 24, 2021
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