Who’d be a new Gallagher Premiership head coach? It can be an unforgiving place, learning your trade and earning your stripes in the full glare of the media spotlight. Job security isn’t all that attractive either. A half-dozen clubs have changed their set-up within the last year and the results have not been kind so far for Johnathan Thomas at Worcester.
Having hooked up with Bristol in 2016 as a defence coach, the ex-Wales back row could have cosily stayed on there as an assistant as a two-year extension had been offered. However, the then forwards coach instead sought out fresh pastures 65 miles away from Ashton Gate, switching to Sixways where the grand ambition is to stop being a club forever occupying the bottom few rungs of the table.
The teething problems for Thomas have been challenging, Worcester winning just three of their dozen top-flight games since he joined the Alan Solomons ticket as a forwards coach. That ledger hasn’t improved since he was promoted to head coach at the start of 2021, Thomas seeing his team beaten on all five occasions with him at the helm.
However, you would be wrong to think it is an energy-sapping experience for the 38-year-old who won 67 Test caps with Wales during his playing days. If his career told Thomas anything it’s that rugby has its share of adversity and he is willing to take the repeated blows to the chin now as Worcester boss if it means everything will work out for the better in the long run.
The obstacles don’t get any less daunting, though, as Saturday will be a sliding doors moment, his old team Bristol, the current league leaders, arriving into Sixways. He could be riding their crest of the wave. Instead, he is looking to give joint bottom club Worcester a leg up in a league where there is currently 26 points separating top from bottom halfway through the 22-game season.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 2, 2021
“What is picking me up is the fact that I’m unbelievably passionate about the game, always have been since I was about four years of age,” said Thomas when quizzed by RugbyPass at his weekly Worcester media conference on what is keeping him enthusiastic despite the bruising run of losses, not only with him at the helm but stretching back to the first day of the season in November when they grabbed their only win, a sweaty one-point success against London Irish.
“So I love a challenge, I’m a very driven person but I have also suffered a lot of adversity during my career. Listen I could go through so many. I’m fortunate to have played in four Celtic League winning teams with the Ospreys, two Grand Slams, Triple Crowns and I know what success looks like but I have also been in teams that have failed and gone through adversity.
“The big thing is if you are passionate and if you are driven, the thing you realise is there is really a fine line between success and failure and there is never such a bigger margin between the two as people think.
“The phrase often used to the players on where we are at the moment is be disappointed but don’t be devastated because if you are devastated about your situation it means it clouds your emotions and it affects you the following week, so yes we are disappointed but we’re not devastated because we have got to get back on the horse.
“In terms of bringing it back myself I knew when I made the decision to leave Bristol, I was offered another two-year deal at Bristol and it would have been the easiest thing in the world to have stayed there because I was enjoying my time at Bristol but I was really excited about the challenge about coming to Worcester.
“I guess to answer your question, what we are going through now is no surprise to me because when I signed up I knew what I was signing up to. That is why I think talking about emotion, I get disappointed because I hate to lose. I’m the same as everyone else, I go home after a game and I’m disappointed.
“But you have just got to understand what the bigger picture is and I knew when I signed for the club I was fully aware, I did my due diligence, spoke to a lot of people and knew the internal issues that the club had and I know there is a process we have got to go through so once you have got that vision, the process and the plan you don’t defer from that.
“As I say, I enjoy rugby. When you finish as a player and you come back coaching what rugby is it’s a roller coaster every week. The week is always about building up to the crescendo of the game whether you are a player or a coach and it’s the high of the weekend and it’s like a drug, isn’t it?
'…the chances of injury are high just because of the nature of the game but the moment you start fearing that is going to happen to you, that is when those things start to happen'
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 21, 2021
“That is what we do it for and then you either get the high of winning or the disappointment of losing but again you get back on the horse and you do it the following week. Why do you do it, who knows? It’s a very good question. I’m not a clinical psychologist and I don’t know why we all sign up to it to be honest because it would be a lot easier life to be a teacher or something, but it’s probably something to do with your personality and loving the highs and lows of sport. That is why we do it.”
Games have come and gone against Sale, Exeter, Leicester, Wasps and fellow strugglers Gloucester with Thomas as the Worcester head coach. However, rather than get hung up on the downside of these losses, Thomas is more inclined to flip the picture and instead outline the things that have enthused him so far in the eight weeks he has been the Warriors boss.
“What has pleased me is we have now got the team of coaches we need to be successful. We were a coach light for a little while and we brought in Mark Jones from the Crusaders two months ago. The game these days is not about one person so you need a team of people and it would be the same in football.
“It’s not about (Jose) Mourinho or (Jurgen) Klopp. They have all got a team of people behind them that help them succeed and with Mark Jones, Mark Irish, Matt Sherratt, there is a team of coaches there that I’m really happy with and that is huge.
“The whole thing around co-coaching is the chemistry as a group and being aligned and the players seeing that you are aligned is important to them. You always use the analogy of mum and dad. If mum says one thing and dad says another then you know that gives mixed messages to your kids and then they will always go to the one that is the softer touch, so it’s a bit like that with coaching.
“You all need to be aligned, you all need to be speaking – different mouths, one tongue. That is what we are at the moment and that has really pleased me. The other thing that has pleased me is I’m really enjoying working with the players.
“As I said earlier it is disappointment every week that we are losing but there is a good spirit in the camp. The players, I really enjoy working with them. They want to get better, they have got a good growth mindset and they are responding to what we are asking in training which is not always getting the transference at the moment but we will.”
Declan Kidney inherited a mess nearly three years ago to the very day at London Irish but he is now the 4th longest serving Premiership club boss, evidence that he must be doing well #PremRugbyhttps://t.co/8OMwF32SH5
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 5, 2021
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