Worcester Warriors once again see themselves battling at the bottom end of the Premiership table. With the start of the 2013/14 season bringing about vast change at the club, it was certainly not going to be an easy ride for the Sixways faithful. Dean Ryan and co. have expressed their desire to grit their teeth and suffer the hard graft of losses and possibly even Championship rugby, yet are adamant that in the long-term, the club will come out on brighter pastures. It seems like the Premiership has been a jinx for the Midlands club, having shown essences of brilliance, desire and commitment, confronting the countries best has been one step too far.
With effort and financial investment over the past few years leading to little more than regular Amlin Challenge Cup action, the club is in need of a long-term fix, but even more crucially, patience. It is understandable, as a Worcester boy myself, that fans are growing impatient of being patient, and we certainly need some success to maintain our passion and love for our club. However, the board and coaching team have made large steps into demonstrating their intent to take this club to the next level. The redevelopment of the Academy system and the creation of the Development Player Pathway will allow Worcester to not only kindle some of the best talent, but hopefully keep that talent firmly set at the club. The recent addition of Nick Johnston to become Worcester’s High Performance Director, a newly-developed role, is potentially the most intriguing thing for a passionate Warrior. With a proven track record, its now plain to see that with all the facilities, coaching mastery, financial backing and future talent that club has at its disposal, the future is golden for the gold ‘n’ blues.
Positivity is the key in my eyes. I regularly become critical of performance and club decisions, yet, I am firmly behind the club week in, week out on the field. Perhaps the most positive thing that has come to the fore so far this season is the sublime performances of home grown star, Chris Pennell. Having already made 100 appearances for the club, and hopefully well on the way to 200, Pennell has sparkled and warmed the hearts of many with his tactical intelligence, ball carrying and attacking prowess. Dean Ryan has shown his support for the 26-year old and insists he would have already received England Caps had he been playing for one of the top four clubs. His loyalty and commitment is something everyone is thankful for. Having given so much to the club, it will be terrific to see future Worcester performances give something back to Chris and the supporters. Whether that be Silverware or International Caps, or even both!
Having been a fan of Chris for many years, I was delighted when he agreed to answer a few questions. It’s a great insight into his newly found role as a father and as a top English Full Back!
Firstly, many congratulations on your recently born baby girl, how are you finding balancing fatherhood and rugby?
Thank you very much! It’s been a quick learning curve but so far so good. I always needed a good night’s sleep before Harla came along so I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how I’m feeling day to day. I’m sure it will catch up with me eventually though!
It’s been a tough start to the season for the Warriors and Dean Ryan made a point of stating that developing the club into a more competitive outfit will take time. Do you think there are brighter times ahead for Worcester? Why do you think Ryan and co. will have the desired effect on the players?
It has been a tough start but without doubt there will be better times to come. Dean and the other coaches were never going to create an instant fix but what they are doing is beginning to shape things for future success. We’ve got a huge amount of knowledge for us to tap into as players but ultimately to be successful, we know its going to take a lot of hard work. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge, unless you are constantly striving to improve as players, you will never move on from where you currently stand.
As a team, you’ve regularly been on the unlucky side of the Referee’s whistle, but there has been indiscipline issues which have been an influencing factor on the losses this year. What is the focus for the coaching team in terms of game plan and things to work on?
We’ve got ourselves to blame for some of that. Referees tend to be hotter on us through our track record of being ill-disciplined. The only way that will change is by slowly shifting their perception of us as a team. But yes, we have had some poor decisions against us that have ended up costing us!
As an Academy player you’ve been with the club through thick and thin. You’ve had injury problems but this season you’ve demonstrated your superb kicking, positioning and attacking ability along with other attributes. What has contributed to your impressive displays?
I think being able to string together games without getting any serious injuries has helped and long may that continue! Confidence helps for sure and when you know your coaches and teammates believe in you, that’s a powerful thing. The most exciting thing for me is that I know I’ve got a lot more to give.
Being one of the best this season at gaining vital metres, there’s been a lot of talk surrounding Lancaster noticing you for England duty. I know I’d love to see you in the national side! How do you feel about all the gossip? Confident you have what it takes?
It’s nice to be talked about in these ways and I would of course love the opportunity! There’s a long way to go before I pull on an England jersey but I am hopefully on the right track to making that dream a reality.
Which performance of the season thus far do you think has been your best and why?
Difficult to say, I’m my own harshest critic. There’s been good and bad in all my games so far. I’m not satisfied with any of them yet!
What do you think to the new Development Player Pathway which will have four centres of excellence set up in the surrounding Midlands area for talented younger players?
The DPP is a great step forward. When you look at it, there are so many talented rugby players who have slipped through the net in the Midlands to go on and succeed elsewhere. The more chances to see young talent in action the better off Worcester will be in the future. Bringing local lads through is without doubt the way to a sustainable successful future.
I know many fans are grateful for your loyalty to the club, especially with the pedigree that you have. What are the endearing characteristics of Sixways and the surrounding area?
I owe the club a huge amount and want success here for the future. If I can help towards that then I’ll be happy. Sixways for me still has an old school rugby feel about it which is invaluable and I hope never dilutes. We’ve got incredibly loyal support, amazing facilities and a world class coaching setup. They only thing left to do is for us players to do the business on the pitch.
If you could choose one stadium in the world to play rugby, where would it be and why?
I went to watch Wales against New Zealand a few years back at the Millennium and it was the most electric atmosphere I’ve ever encountered. To play for England there would be unbelievable!! I’m sure there’s somewhere far more exotic than that but the noise and buzz that day has stuck with me.
Do you have any niggles or hates about today’s game?
Not really… I think the constant law changes could be quite frustrating but they are ultimately trying to improve the game. I would like to see more matches in good weather so I’d support a summer switch!
What would be your advice to mini/juniors across the country about getting involved in professional sport?
Tough one! I’d say the old clichés are true, enjoyment is the most important thing and the harder you work, the more you’ll get back. From a practical point of view, be passionate about improving yourself and be hungry to learn.
Many sleepless nights or nappy changes yet?!
Had a couple of tough ones!! She’s been pretty good recently and my wife, Jo, takes a lot of the night-time duties… When she does wake in the night I try and change her nappy while Jo gets ready to feed her. I don’t feel so guilty then when I’m snoring away 2 minutes later!!
Previously to being a father, how did you relax? I know Nandos is a popular venture for some of the lads.
Yep, food is always a good way to relax! Its something all the boys have in common too, we all love to eat loads!! I managed to play a bit of golf every now and again, but I expect my clubs will collect dust for a while now…
Thinking about the future, what would be your ideal career path? Fancy coaching or punditry?
I’m not sure where the future will take me? Right now, I can’t see myself coaching but you never know! Although I’d enjoy it I’m probably a good few caps short of getting a career as a pundit! I’m very passionate about property and I’m starting my degree in Estate Management in April. I did some work experience with a commercial developer in the off-season and really enjoyed it. I like to keep my options open though!
Many thanks to Chris for his precious time. Everyone at In The Loose and Worcester fans I’m sure wish you all the best for the future and hope you succeed in your degree!
You can follow Chris on Twitter- @chris_pennell