Worcester boss Jonathan Thomas says he knew when he first took on the job of rebuilding the Premiership club there might be a few “bumps in the road”.
But after five straight losses, the last three by heavy margins, capped by an unwanted record, he admits he did not expect quite such big bumps.
“When I was asked to become head coach, I knew the size of the task,” Warriors’ head coach told BBC Sport.
“I knew it was a rebuilding job. We’ve gone through an awful lot of change.”
But Worcester go into Saturday’s home game with Sale urgently needing to stop the flow of opposition tries (35 in six matches) and needing an improved showing after three successive defeats of particular magnitude: 42-5 at Exeter, 48-3 at home to Leicester, then last Friday’s record 66-10 reverse at Northampton – the biggest opposition points total they have conceded since first being promoted to the Premiership 17 years ago.
Since beating doomed Saracens at the end of the delayed Covid-hit 2019-20 season, in September 2020, Warriors have won just two of the 25 Premiership games they have played – both at home to London Irish.
But Thomas insists: “We’re not as bad as people think.
“It’s now about changing people’s perception,” he told BBC Hereford & Worcester.
“I’m not that surprised. Historically, this club has always lost more games than we’ve won. And I knew there’d be a few bumps in the road. I just didn’t think the bumps would be as big as this.”
‘Everybody’s hurting’ – Thomas
Thomas says there are no excuses for Worcester’s current form – but there are mitigating “factors”, the loss of club captain Ted Hill to a three-game suspension, and injuries to their new international half-back pairing from Gloucester, Willi Heinz and Owen Williams, as well as full-back Melani Nanai.
But, to put it into better context, Warriors’ five losses since opening the season with that lone victory over London Irish have all been against sides in the Premiership’s top six. And Thomas remains optimistic that they can shut out the noise.
“After the last three results and performances, everybody at the club is hurting,” he said.
“There’s a lot of external noise when you’re losing and people holding you accountable.
“All we can do is concentrate on ourselves and how we can improve.
Worcester Warriors in 2021-22
First three games of season:
P 3 W 1 L 2 Bonus pts 3
Tries scored 11 Tries conceded 12
Last three games:
P 3 W 0 L 3 Bonus pts 0
Tries scored 2 Tries conceded 23
“You don’t just come out with a slogan saying ‘Abracadabra. Everything is Rosy’. But we were the highest points scorers in the Premiership after round three. That shows there wasn’t much wrong.
“But it’s not acceptable to lose by this sort of margin repeatedly. We’re gifting tries.
“Of the 10 tries Northampton scored, seven were almost handed to them on a plate, including two interceptions. We’ve got to stop that.
“We’re not learning from our mistakes. We’ve changed how we review things at the Monday morning meeting. A lot of talking has been done. Confidence has taken a bit of a hit, but now it’s time for action.
“It’s about doing the basics. I’ve been lucky enough to be coached by quite a few All Blacks. The great teams do the basics very well. They didn’t reinvent the wheel. As professionals, that and hard work should be a given.
“And our collisions need to improve. We need to be much more physical. The harsh reality of where we’re at is that other teams will now think they can do a job on Worcester.”
The return of Ted Hill
One major positive on Saturday will be the return of club captain Hill.
“We’ve really missed him,” admits Thomas. “He’s a heart-and-soul type of player. He’s got huge presence on and off the pitch. He’s extremely motivated.
“The game is also about chemistry and relationships. And, when you lose almost all your leadership group, that is an issue.
“We’re missing their chat on the field. When you’re not performing, it can go a bit quiet.”
Hill’s absence for three games has been crucial, as has that of Wales stand-off Williams, who damaged his hamstring against former club Gloucester when he slipped badly trying to kick at goal.
Then came the loss of England scrum-half Willi Heinz, whose return from injury was delayed when he pulled out of the Northampton game at late notice, along with England centre Ollie Lawrence.
“Willi Heinz won’t be available this weekend,” said Thomas. “But Ollie has a chance. He’s a remarkably quick healer. Most grade two tears take more than a couple of weeks. He’s confident he can play, although obviously he must be a doubt.”
Jonathan Thomas was talking to BBC Hereford & Worcester sports editor Trevor Owens.