How’s pre-season going? Good. We’ve been back since June 3. A few guys have been away getting married or on international duty but the core of the squad is getting flogged, getting things sorted.
Why the early start? Our season finished pretty early to be fair last year. Getting back a week earlier meant we got a week’s extra preparation on everyone else.
Since Christmas we’ve played pretty well, we didn’t want the season to end so everybody was keen to get back and get this year started.
Over the summer have you had a chance to reflect on why things went generally well after Christmas and quite poorly in the first half of last season? I don’t think you can underestimate the amount of change we had last summer and the effect that had on how the season started. We made a few tweaks and a few tactical things post-Christmas which we felt made a difference.
But, I don’t know, it’s the million dollar question, what went wrong?
I think our home form was always pretty good. We had a couple of good away wins like Gloucester. We showed a lot more promise in the big games after Christmas, we didn’t fall away.
Whether we were fitter or fresher, we had a few boys come back from injury, new units working together. On their own, they are a lot of small things but when you add them together they are quite major things. Post-Christmas we got a lot of things sorted out.
Hopefully we can build on that this year.
What’s the feeling in the squad as the season approaches? How do you feel yourself? This time last year I was new into it and I was injured. I felt I was on the fringes. Players like Skivs [George Skivington] was new, Tomás [O’Leary] was new; there were a lot of new players in senior roles. It was quite hard to feel really part of the group.
This year we’re all a year more experienced and everybody is fitting in really well. Glenn Delaney [forwards coach] was new, Richie Whiffin was promoted last year to backs coach.
Everybody is more comfortable now. I think the buzz is brilliant, everybody really wants to be there this year and everybody really wants to play.
Obviously we know that it’s not going to be easy to change performances 100 per cent but we’re going to go out there and give it our best shot.
How’s your partnership with Tomás O’Leary developing? He’s still coming back from his back injury. He’s training quite a lot but he’s not out there the whole time. When there is a player as good as Tomás there it makes my job a whole lot easier.
Phibbsy [Patrick Phibbs] and Darren Allison are both quality nines as well. Tomás is a world class player.
The couple of games we got last year together, we seemed to click quite well. He seems to instinctively know where I want the ball and when I want it. Fingers crossed we can build on last year and get a good partnership going this year.
Saracens first then away to Worcester and home to Exeter. It’s not an easy opening. How important is it to begin the season well? Not to keep harking back to last season but we lost the first five games last year. You’re staring into the barrel and all of a sudden a bit of nervousness creeps in. You lose a wee bit of ambition, you get conservative.
The game we want to play, is we want to be free, we want to express ourselves — that suits the players we’ve got. We’ve got some destructive runners in the forwards and some incredibly quick and powerful backs.
We want to go out and play rugby so I think it’s important that we get wins to build confidence and do better than last year.
What’s your contract situation at the minute? How long will you be at the club? I signed a year extension a month ago so I’ll be here for four years in total from start to finish.
That must give you a great sense of security… That’s a massive thing. I had three years security and I’ve got another year on top of that. It’s nice to get the vote of confidence from the coaches and the people upstairs as well.
It means I don’t have to worry about my next club or my next contract, I can just play rugby and hopefully perform well.
A year after moving over, how have yourself and the family settled into London life? Good, it’s a bit busier than Broughshane [Co. Antrim], the village I’m from at home. But it’s really good. We live in Sunbury, near to training. It’s a quiet area. The club have been brilliant in terms of helping me and the family settle in.
The kids love it, and Jenny [Mrs Humphreys] enjoys it now. Obviously we both miss our family. We’re both from tight families, big families with lots of cousins and brothers and sisters but we know it’s short term, for four years, and we’re going to make the most of it while we’re here.
There’s plenty of things to do. Just last week on a week off we did plenty of family things, went to parks and museums and that type of thing, things you can’t really do at home.
A year ago you told us the most important thing about rugby for you was enjoyment. Do you still enjoy the game as much as you have in the past? Yeah, totally. That’s why I was more than happy to sign another contract.
Last year I didn’t do a pre-season. This year I’ve just thrown myself into it like an 18-year-old. I feel really fresh, really enthusiastic. Robbie Palmer, our conditioner, has been brilliant. The detail he goes into, the amount of hours he puts into making our programmes, putting them into practice has been brilliant.
It has renewed my enthusiasm. Like, I loved last year but this year I’m really buzzing to go because it’s the first time in a couple of years I’ve had a really good pre-season. I feel fit and fresh and ready to go.