“It’s always difficult when you move up a league to know the level of those new opponents compared with where you’re at. Even more so with the long break for the pandemic so to get two away wins in the first two games is a dream start,” Tony Yapp is talking about Titans’ victories on the road at Leeds and Doncaster in National League One. Bonus point victories against strong opposition before even having a home match is “just reward for all the hard work the boys put in during pre-season.”
Head Coach Yapp is quick to point to the camaraderie of the Titans squad as the biggest success so far. “We’ve had players come in which has added value and great quality to the side but also pushed other players on to up their game. We’ve roomed the guys in the hotels with others they may not know so well so the spirit and camaraderie has been a real stand out so far.”
Amongst those new faces are the on-loan scrum and fly-half combination from Exeter, Sam Maunder and Jack Walsh. Yapp is really pleased with how they have slotted into the slide on and off the field. The enthusiasm is reciprocated by the young half-backs, Maunder commenting that he is “loving it – it’s been easy to settle into the environment” and Walsh echoing the enjoyment of being able to play “week-in week-out rugby” which has been an issue during the pandemic. The former Australian Schoolboy international goes on to say that “the boys have made it a nice place to be” and that he “can’t speak highly enough of it.”
“We’ve fought hard to get those two wins but the boys have spent a lot of time together which has built the morale in the squad. It takes a long time to get to Darlington on a bus.” Tony Yapp
With a handful of Premiership appearances each for Chiefs, you could understand Maunder and Walsh if they thought themselves above National League One level but there’s not a trace of such a viewpoint. “I’ve played very little consistent rugby in the last year and a half,” says the scrum half who captained England Under 20s, “I still love the game. It’s pretty easy to get up for it.” Walsh shows his empathy for the Taunton squad, “These boys haven’t played for even longer than us, so their enthusiasm is infectious and I’m just jumping on the back of that really.”
If there were any lingering doubt about how these young Chiefs feel about playing for Titans it is dispelled when, asked what a successful season for them would look like, they both immediately chorus, “Promotion”. They talk with genuine enthusiasm about getting around the pitch with Titans and it’s a while before Walsh adds, almost as an afterthought, “For us personally, if we’re doing the right things on the field then the rest will take care of itself.”
It’s hard to begrudge two young professional rugby players having ambitions but it’s lovely to know that they are wholeheartedly committed to a big season with Taunton in National League One.
“Two big away trips to Leeds and Darlington were great for forming bonds and relationships with the rest of the guys – that’s what matters at the back end of the season.” Jack Walsh
The different nature of the game for a fly half in England is something Walsh is enjoying learning, citing the greater emphasis on kicking. “It’s more physical too but the pace of the game is slower than, say the Shute Shield [the Sydney first grade competition] where they’re happy to throw the ball around.” Talking nineteen to the dozen, he takes a rare moment to reflect on why this might be and shows his ability to analyse the sport, “because there’s no relegation or promotion, teams are willing to give it a crack whereas here you’ve got to have that level of caution.”
Maunder makes no bones about how useful it is to have somebody with whom he trains on a daily basis playing next to him and Walsh explains how their understanding has become intuitive, “Training at Chiefs allows me to play instinctively off the back of what he does. I can almost see what he’s going to do before he does it.” This will surely help the Titans back line as they too become familiar with the pair. There are some exciting moves in store this season.
“For me it helps massively having Jack outside me at 10. We’ve spent almost every day together for a year now.” Sam Maunder
Looking ahead to this weekend’s fixture, Maunder comments that, “Since we’re new to the league, we don’t know too much about Rosslyn Park. We know they’re good and they’ve had a good start but we don’t get to watch a tape. It’s quite nice going into a game knowing whatever happens on the day will happen.”
Walsh nods and adds, “We’re just focused on ourselves and bringing what we can to the team effort. We’ll concentrate on going with what the coaching team gives us for formations and game plans.” Back to Head Coach Yapp then who paid tribute to the league leaders who top the table ahead of Titans on points difference, “Rosslyn Park has been in the league for a long time. They’ve got good players and they’re well coached. They’re obviously flying high at the moment but we’re focused on ourselves and our game.”
“Our confidence is high. We’re looking forward to seeing our own supporters there and being back in front of a vocal Taunton crowd. With all the miles we’ve covered, it feels as though the league’s been going for ages and we’ve not played at home yet. We’re looking forward to getting stuck in.”
The final word though has to go to the 9 and 10 pairing. Walsh leads in, saying, “It’s a top of the table clash isn’t it? So having as much support from the local area as possible is a massive help to us. It really drives the boys.” And from Maunder, “Get yourselves up here [to Veritas Park]. It should be a decent old ding-dong.”