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'I'll just give you the facts...': The 20-minute Worcester headache

By Liam Heagney

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Last Saturday was surely a Gallagher Premiership head-scratcher for Worcester and their rookie head coach Jonathan Thomas. Reflecting on their results over their last number of seasons, a failing identified was the concession of most of their tries in the closing 20 minutes of matches. It even happened in their new season round one win over London Irish, the Exiles outscoring the Warriors by two tries to one coming down the finishing straight in a game Worcester won 36-24.

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It was a work-on for heading into the round two Premiership trip to champions Harlequins and Worcester nailed it in the sense they outscored the Londoners three tries to one in the closing 21 minutes. The unfortunate problem was that Harlequins were four tries to one to the good by then and comfortably poised in a win they eventually bagged by 35-29 following the late Warriors flourish. 

Thomas, who overhauled his squad in the off-season, has no silver bullet answer when it comes to this phase of the game they have targeted for some serious improvement in 2021/22. The feeling is it’s an issue with numerous aspects to investigate, but its progress in the coming weeks and months is something to watch given that Worcester finished last season at the bottom of the Premiership and had conceded the most tries, 78 in the 19 games they got to play.  

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It was a topic Thomas delved into with RugbyPass the other day prior to travelling to The Stoop – is the solution a simple matter of his squad getting fitter or something else? “It’s always very difficult, fitness is sometimes subjective,” he began.

“I know we have got GPS these days which tells you how fast they run, how far they run, heart rate monitors etc. The facts, I’ll just give you the facts, Worcester over the last few seasons have conceded over the last four years most of their tries in the last 20 minutes, so certainly a spike in tries in the last 20 minutes.

“What that tells you is there is an issue somewhere. I can’t categorically say it is fitness. It could be leadership, could be impact from the bench, it could be confidence but if you are a really fit side it certainly helps you to nail those big moments in the last 20 minutes. One of the challenges for us last year was certainly our training intensity wasn’t where I wanted it to be and our ability to be able to repeat big efforts, whether that is in games or in training, wasn’t always there and that is a conditioning thing.

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“But there are different types of conditioning and the game in this competition is about repeating physical efforts and it’s not just about being great at running fitness tests anymore. You have to get off the floor and make a hit and then get back off the floor again and carry the ball, and the big impacts in the games in this league are huge when you play against the teams like Exeter, Leicester etc. That was the real challenge and we have got quite a young squad as well. It’s about setting up those guys to succeed. 

“It’s not just David (Drake, head of performance), it’s the whole support staff he has got behind him and it’s about the coaches as well and everyone collaborating. The nutritionist, the sport psych. We have just come at it from a whole load of different angles and we are seeing real growth in the team and that is helped by the players we have brought in as well. 

“We are definitely in a better place but let’s not forget we have played one game and have had a seven-week pre-season so for us to be the team that we want to be it is still going to take a little while. Things don’t happen overnight, so we’re on the upward curve.”

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'I'll just give you the facts...': The 20-minute Worcester headache

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