PREVIEW: Bristol Rugby vs Rotherham
THE recent weather has played havoc with the best-laid plans of wingers up and down the country – but George Watkins has thrived on the opportunity to build his game.
The Bristol flyer would rather be taking on defenders on dry, firm pitches, but he feels the challenge of playing in driving rain and on heavy ground against Ulster Ravens and Leeds has helped broaden his skills.
The 22-year-old has become a mainstay of the Bristol side – and he hopes to make a positive impact against Rotherham on Sunday, regardless of the conditions.
"I'm getting used to playing in the rain and cold at the moment, but it's just a matter of being patient," said Watkins.
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"It's actually a pretty good challenge, because on the dry days you know you're going to get some ball – but on those wet days you're tested as a player.
"You know that pretty much all you're going to have to do is catch balls and make your tackles – but if you can do that it's part of building up your game.
"You don't want to be the guy who, when it's wet, the coaches say, 'oh, you're not playing this weekend, because you only offer this'. As a player, you want to be able to offer everything.
"It's not going to be sunny every week, so it's quite good to get those games in – and if you play well in those it's good to know that you've built another block to your game.
"Although, saying that, I did stop for a second in the Leeds game and think, 'I can't wait until it starts drying up and getting warm again!' But it's just part of the game at the moment – you know it's going to happen during the season."
Bristol have not played since beating Leeds 12-9 in the wind and rain on January 25, after last weekend's trip to Moseley was postponed on the morning of the match.
And two weeks without a game have left Bristol's players desperate to get back on the field and go on a winning run that takes them into the Championship play-offs.
"You can see in training that everyone just wants to get back out there," said Watkins. "We want these games to come now, so we can start picking up some momentum.
"It's heading to a pretty crucial part of the season, so we need to be playing these games and getting some consistency together.
"It's the nature of this league – if you can put four or five wins together, you will see yourself shoot up the table and get yourself into a good position.
"A lot of teams seem to be going win, loss, win, loss at the moment – it's only really Newcastle who have gone through the season consistently winning. With everyone else, it's pretty tight. So we want the games to keep coming along now, because we want to build that consistency and momentum.
"If you look at Nottingham losing to London Scottish last weekend, people might not have seen that coming, so a good run for us could result in us finishing even higher than fourth."
Sunday's opponents Rotherham have been feted for their heavy pack, physical approach and big collisions – but Watkins believes there is a new subtlety to their game this season.
"We learned last year that you don't get an easy game against them," he said, presumably referring to Bristol's 44-6 defeat at Clifton Lane in October 2011.
"They're a really big side and really physical, but I actually think they've mixed it up quite well this year – they're chucking it around a bit now."