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Gareth Thomas: 'This game means everything. We have to leave it all out there.'

The Ospreys and Wales loosehead expects a big reaction against Australia after the chastening loss to Georgia

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'I never turned into an alcoholic, I can't give you that headline'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images

Second-year head coach George Skivington has candidly spoken about his coping mechanisms when it comes to handling the immense pressure of being the Gloucester boss in the ultra-competitive Gallagher Premiership. It was June 2020 when the 39-year-old left his assistant’s role at London Irish for the top job at Kingsholm following the exit of Johan Ackermann. 

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After a difficult first full season, the improvements under Skivington are now clear to see as his second season in charge nears its conclusion. Gloucester are still in with a great chance of reaching the Premiership semi-finals while they are also through to the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup. 

Along the way, there has been plenty of learning. When he started out at Gloucester, Skivington used to have long-term plans but he quickly realised that he needed to narrow his focus if he was to survive in the role. “You hear it so many sports so many times about going week to week because you would (otherwise) go mental. 

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“There are enough things to drive you mental in your role, I can tell you now, so you have got to make sure you find some sanity somewhere and I learned that lesson pretty early on. I was planning sort of a month in advance. Here’s who we are going to play this week and we’re going to take this approach and a game or two into it, I had to rip it all up and go, none of that is going to come through, I have got that completely wrong and he’s not fit now. 

“You sort of go home and drink a bottle of wine and then get ready for the next day. I don’t want to be drinking a bottle of wine all the time trying to solve problems. You have got to just go week after week, you have got to be at peace. 

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“You are going to get kicked in the guts as we did at Bristol in the last minutes of the game (last week) and that is hard to swallow, but then you move on and you go, right, we have just got to get to the next game and the next game and the next game. Planning too far in advance and trying to work out who is playing who and who is going to beat who and all the rest of it, my energy is much better spent focusing on this team.”

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The suggestion by Skivington that he has got to be at peace in order to do the best job possible at Gloucester sounded intriguing and he had no hesitation in explaining himself further when asked at his weekly media briefing ahead of this Saturday’s home game versus Bath. “Most people in my role would have good people you can go and talk to. Some in the game, some out of the game. 

“I have got some very good friends I can rely on for a conversation. My wife is good at straightening me out. I don’t say that lightly. That is a huge thing for me. I am very fortunate with my wife because she will straighten me up when I am letting something get on top of me a little bit and maybe just prioritise. She is a good sounding board for me. 

“One of the things you sort of have to be at peace with is a rugby ball can bounce one way or the other, someone can miss a tackle when they are working unbelievably hard, your systems are good, someone misses a tackle, you have got a quality player who goes and scores a try and you lose the game. 

“Everyone is going to have an opinion on that but as a head coach you have just got to park it, say were we in the systems, were we where we set out to do and it was a human error if you like. That is what a lot of games come down to in the Prem, one-point games, three-point games. You have got to be at peace. 

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“I’m not saying you are at peace straight away but you have got to find your own peace with that once you have had time to review it and go no one’s perfect. There are 15 blokes on the pitch at any one time and someone makes an error and one error is enough to score a try in the Premiership now.

“So it is more finding peace with okay, that is going to happen at some point but where could we have been better rather than finding excuses and reasons why you lost and trying to justify who is on the field and who is not on the field and all that stuff. It’s more going, well, the only thing I can control is how we can get better and for me, that is something I have learned over the last nearly two years. You might as well put your energy into that because moaning or finding excuses, it’s no good for anybody.”

There has been plenty of trial and error along the way before reaching that comforting perspective. “It does take time,” continued Skivington about his Gloucester boss apprenticeship. “There are lots of experiences you go through. Certainly, when I started off, I’m not one for social media or anything like that but you become aware of bits and pieces and people saying what you should be doing. 

“There are lots of people who are going to tell you what you should be doing and in the early days, you maybe go yeah, yeah and then you just get to a point of do you know what, I know what I stand for, I know what I am trying to do. I am going to be absolutely honest with everybody in the building and I like to think I am honest with you (media) guys as well. 

“I don’t really try and fluff it up and it will take me where it takes me. That is sort of where you find peace with it in the end. You sort of enjoy the drama of it a little as well. I try and enjoy the highs and lows because it’s horrible, like what happened last weekend, but then the exciting bit is you then come in and you have got a group to motivate, to listen to that wasn’t great but we go again. You have to enjoy the roller coaster of it or else what is the point of doing it? There is no point doing the job.” 

Mention of those regular bottles of wine at home, did it ever become a worrying habit? “I never turned into an alcoholic, I cannot give you that headline,” he quipped with a chuckle. “I mean, I like a drink, I like training in the gym but I like a drink as well. You can always find solace sometimes in having a drink because if you are really struggling to find the positive in something, sometimes having a drink and having a laugh, there is real benefit in that. 

“That is not me encouraging drinking or anything like that. I never got a point where I was drinking a bottle of wine a night or anything like that, no, but I certainly wouldn’t shy away from a drink and again, sometimes it takes the edge off.

“There are a million things you are dealing with and it’s not the obvious things you would think rugby-related and so sometimes you just need to be in a slightly different headspace, a glass of wine or hitting the gym. Those two things are probably the two things where I get level-headed sometimes.”

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