We sat down with Alex Coles ahead of this Sunday’s clash against Wasps at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens, with the lock-cum-flanker catching the eye in Black, Green and Gold despite results in recent weeks…
Q: First of all, how do you reflect on last week’s frustrating defeat at Gloucester?
AC: It was pretty painful, to be honest. I had a couple of sleepness nights, running the game back through in my head and there’s a lot to say in terms of the technical and tactical aspects of the game that let us down towards the end. Overall, the overriding theme is that we have to get these games over the line. It’s obviously been a bit of a trend these last two or three weeks that we’ve been really in the game, we’re playing well in large patches and then big moments are letting us down. We give away cheap tries and we work really, really hard for our tries. The opposition make us work hard for ours and we’re not making them work hard enough for their tries, and it’s got to be put right as quickly as possible.
Q: How tough is it for the players when they come off with a defeat having controlled the majority of play during the game?
AC: After the game, it’s very much everyone trying to get their own heads around it. Boydy [Chris Boyd] will speak to us and he’s just said we need to get together as a team now. You don’t solve these issues by arguing with each other. We need to have honest conversations and have to be pretty accountable for mistakes that were made, but we also need to look at the things we’ve done well, and we need to get together as a group and find solutions. The supporters are, rightly, feeling pretty angry about how it’s going and we feel exactly the same, and we’ve just got to promise them we’ll be able to get better and get some smiles back on faces.
Q: Do the players feel like they’re starting to put their fingers on why these lapses during games have been happening?
AC: One of the things we try and talk about in training is putting ourselves under pressure to emulate those pressure moments in the game, whether we are on our own line or we’re in their 22 and we need to score. I think that’s something we need to see more of on the training pitch and that’s something the coaches have recognised. We’ve recognised as players that we need chances to practice that really intense pressure, and make each other really accountable for it. That’s so if something goes wrong, someone is putting their hand up and we know why it’s gone wrong, and we make sure that next time it doesn’t happen again. By the time the game comes, we’ve hopefully ironed out those errors.
Q: Have you also been reminded by the coaches what you’ve been doing right in the last three weeks?
AC: It can often be quite negative at times when you’ve lost a few in a row, and rightly so, because you have to get the learn from the things we’ve done wrong as quickly as possible, but the coaches have also made an effort to show us where we’ve done things well. For the first half against Gloucester, we actually put a really good performance in there and there were patches against Exeter where we looked really strong as well. That try Tom Collins scores against Gloucester is the way we want to play rugby; heads up, moving the ball fast. We just need to see more of that, alongside a few less errors on the defensive side. If we can score as many points as we did against Gloucester, and cut down on the points conceded, we’ll make it harder for teams to score points and we should be in a good position.
Q: How do you feel the season is going for you, personally?
AC: It’s been a bit in-and-out for me – I’ve often been off the bench and now I’m getting a couple of chances to start. Obviously, the results haven’t been going the way I wanted them to when I’ve been starting and I’ve been playing at six, which isn’t probably my primary position, but I’m just trying to get used to that and make sure that I’m putting my hand up in both positions. I love the Club, I love playing at the Gardens, so every time I put on the jersey it’s great. Hopefully we can just now make the outcomes of those games a bit better.
Q: How do you feel about switching between the second and back rows, as this is something Courtney Lawes has managed to do successfully?
AC: I’m enjoying it because I want to have as many strings to my bow as possible. I definitely feel that I can cover both. I feel like I can play there well and it’s just about getting used to it – often we find our back rowers play wider and our second rowers are more through the middle of the pitch, so it’s about trying to get used to that transition. Defence is a bit different because it’s less straight down the channel, and you’ve maybe got to make a few more reads. You’ve got faster players and steps to deal with. I’m getting used to that transition, but I’m really enjoying playing there – it means the legs are a bit fresher from the scrums!
Q: Looking ahead to Wasps, how important is it to get back to winning ways at the Gardens, after a couple of home defeats?
AC: That’s one of the things we always talk about at the Club: Franklin’s Gardens needs to be a fortress. You look back at some of the glory days at this Club, and it was a horrible place to come and play. The team made it really difficult to get a result here, and the supporters were always very loud as a result, so that’s what it needs to be like again and that’s our responsibility. We’re glad to get a chance to hopefully right the wrongs of the last few weeks at home and, in relation to Wasps, they’re a dangerous team. They’ve got a very strong back row that are good breakdown threats, and then their back three is dangerous as well. We just have to stay alive, really. We know, on our day, we can do a job on them, but we’ve had a couple of iffy results against them in the past, so we’ll have to really focus this weekend. The energy won’t be a problem – I’ll promise you that – the boys are ready to absolutely fly and we’ve just got to make sure we’re accurate alongside that.
Q: Do you go into it not thinking about the league position or the games that have gone before?
AC: You’re already dead in the water if you’re thinking back to a previous game or thinking ahead to the next game. You have to be fully focused on the game and Premiership Rugby, in every game, is a massive challenge. We’ve had a couple of bad results now and it’s just really important we get that really razor-sharp focus on this game. The league position now is not where we want to be at all, the supporters looking at it won’t be happy, and we’re not happy with it, but we just have to treat every game as it comes and the focus is fully on Wasps.