As one of twelve players who spent November away on international duty, Jonathan Thomas says that the first week back in the Ospreys camp proved to be a difficult but ultimately very satisfying time for all the players.
A side effect of the region’s success at developing players for the national set-up, the reintegration of the returning internationals always provides a challenge, not only for the players involved, but also, for the players welcoming them back, and most of all, the coaching team who have to ensure a smooth transition that doesn’t impact on performances with December and January a busy and important time in the fixture list.
For the Ospreys, there was no time to lose following the final round of internationals on the final weekend of November, with reigning Magners League champions Munster providing the opposition at the Liberty Stadium just seven days later, ahead of crucial back-to-back Heineken Cup fixtures against Viadana this weekend and next.
For the vastly experienced Thomas, who picked up three more Welsh caps last month to take him up to a half century, the process of reintegration at this stage of the season doesn’t get any easier, but he says that he is pretty pleased with the way things have gone in Ospreylia this time around”
“I think last week the coaches were outstanding to be fair, we had a really good, intense training week and obviously the carrot at the end of it was the Munster game, which everybody wanted to be involved in. We knew that we had to be really focused and on our game to stand any chance of winning against a good side.
“It’s been well documented that we’ve got a few injury problems at the moment as well, but the boys that played did really well, and that was the culmination of an excellent training week by the players and the coaches.”
Explaining the difficulties faced by the players who have been away, Thomas said that it was about forgetting everything you’ve spent every waking hour of the last month doing, to try and refocus on things from the Ospreys perspective. He added:
“It is difficult. With Wales, you are in an environment that is a pretty closed shop and everything is geared to how the Welsh coaches want to do things. You are living in that environment for four to six weeks, you learn the patterns of play, the lineout calls, there is nothing else on your mind for that period so it becomes second nature, you are acting instinctively when things happen around you without having to think about it. Obviously, when you come back to the Ospreys, you’ve got to try and put all of that to the back of your mind straight away, and try to switch your mind back to what you were doing in the past with the Ospreys.
“Whatever environment you are in, you have to sell yourself to that completely, there are no half measures. When we went away with Wales, I think we’d all admit that the first thing we have to do is forget everything we’ve been doing with the Ospreys, the same as the other guys will forget about the Blues, the Scarlets or whoever they play for. You have to, because you have to dedicate yourself to that set-up, and likewise when you come back to the Ospreys from Wales you have to do exactly the same. We’ve had to put to one side all that we’ve done in November and forget about it until the Six Nations.
“There’s going to be an awful lot of intense rugby coming up in December and January, the Heineken Cup and the derby games over Christmas so it’s about switching straight on and working hard to get the right frame of mind.”
Thomas was quick to point out that in addition to the usual difficulties faced by the players coming back into the Ospreys camp, there were additional factors for them to get their heads around this time:
“Probably the one difference this time, that has actually made it more difficult than previous years is that we’ve made some big changes here to the game plan this season. None of us are as familiar yet with it as we may have been in previous years when we’ve been coming back. The coaches have been working hard trying to transform us as a team. I suppose it’s fair to say that we’ve probably underachieved on the attacking side of the game in recent seasons, so there’s been a lot of attention to our attacking mentality and patterns of play this year. What comes with that is a lot of homework, becoming familiar with your roles and trying to make sure that you are doing the right thing for the team on the field. Coming back last week was a case of trying to remember what we’d been doing, and I think we picked it up pretty well in fairness. Against Munster last Saturday, even in wet conditions, we were pretty effective. We just need to keep evolving that now.
“A lot of it is just about coming back in on Monday and Tuesday and almost spending time in the classroom, re-learning. We’ve got good facilities here now, in terms of analysis, and the start of the week was just looking at videos and plays on the laptop, and then as the week advances on you move onto the training field and look to put things into practice. It’s about repetition then, constantly going over the patterns and the line-outs, trying to make sure you are focused on the right things. During the first training week, you probably don’t put too much emphasis on fitness, conditioning or skills; the emphasis is on learning your plays. Once you’ve got that cracked, you can then go back to the other aspects of your game, as a team and as individuals. I don’t think you can underestimate the work that needs to be done during the first week back.
“We can be very satisfied with how things went against an almost full strength Munster. We had an excellent training week, which culminated in a really good performance, but at the end of the day, it was only one game. We need to use that as a springboard onto bigger and better things. There are some big games coming up, so the Munster game was just the start of this next phase of the season. We can take lots of positives from it, there’s a good feeling in the camp and we want to keep that buzz over the next few months.”