Worcester disappointed but now they are ready to compete in the Premiership
“We have had the courage to expose our young players this season, and it’s something to talk to a lot of Worcester fans that has frustrated them over the years – not being able to retain local talent and these players going to other clubs, where local talent doesn’t come in. That’s what we are committed to doing, ”says Thomas.
“We needed a backbone that could come in and add value and make sure they were good mentors and role models for the young players that we have, adding leadership on and off the pitch. When you watch Scott Baldwin, Willi Heinz, Will Chudley, Owen Williams, Duhan van der Merwe, you can clearly see these guys are going to deliver that next season. We are really happy with what we have done there. One or two announcements, he adds, are still to come.
Equally important will be the addition of a new performance manager in David Drake, who is currently part of the Ulster setup.
“I have been part of champion teams as a player and underperforming teams, and I have not been part of a champion team that has not been well conditioned. All teams have very good athletes as well as powerful players, and part of that is genetics, but it’s also how you are conditioned. We believe [Drake] will take us to another level.
There is also a furtive suspicion that Worcester is not as bad as its current record suggests. The roster and defense in particular need work, as Worcester ranks last on average per game for both categories. And if they haven’t won since the first round against the London Irish, they lead the league by losing bonus points with eight. Twice Worcester have lost at home by just one point, against Bristol and last weekend against Leicester.
“It’s certainly not a season where we threw in the towel just to develop – we tried to win,” adds Thomas. “Unfortunately, there were eight games where we came together powerfully and didn’t cross the line. If you win those close games, the league is very different.
Making Worcester competitive enough to qualify for the Champions Cup, let alone the play-offs, is arguably the biggest challenge any Premiership head coach faces. At least with Thomas at the helm and with next season’s rookies including British and Irish Lions wing Van der Merwe about to arrive, Worcester seems to be gradually becoming competitive. It seems long overdue.