By David Roberts
New Dragons recruit Jonah Holmes knows better than most the risks that rugby players will face when they are permitted to go back to training after lockdown.
The Wales international can’t wait to meet up with his new team mates at Rodney Parade after securing a move from Leicester, but returning to a safe environment is the key after seeing what happened to his brother is critical.
A doctor working on the front line of the NHS in the intensive care unit at Royal Bolton Hospital, Raphael Holmes was struck down with pneumonia and forced to self-isolate for two weeks. That forced his brother, Jonah, to also go into lockdown.
“I was already in quarantine when the lockdown happened because I had been up in Manchester looking after my brother, Raphael, who got really ill,” explained Holmes.
“He was working as a doctor in intensive care and got pneumonia, but he wasn’t tested for COVID-19. We will never know if he had coronavirus.
“It was pretty worrying for both him and for me. He did everything right once he got ill and stayed in isolation, which meant I didn’t see him for the two weeks I was up there.
“He has come through it and is now back in work with no issues. I’m just grateful he wasn’t too bad, but it just puts everything into perspective and shows we have to take seriously what is going on.”
The Dragons players are currently on furlough and not expected to be back at work until July. They are hoping to be able to resume playing by the end of August.
“I’m ready to go now, but just waiting for the Government to give us the go ahead. I’ve enjoyed going out running on my own, but it will be great to get back training with the squad,” he added.
“I’m sure when we go back it will be safe and all the measures required to keep the players safe will be in place. I’m not worried about that.
“We will need a bit of training before we go back into playing. After some down time you get a bit soft, but it won’t take long to get back to where we were.”
Holmes’ motivation for moving from Leicester, where he still had a year to run on his contract, to Wales is to try to break into Wayne Pivac’s Welsh team.
Capped three-times under Warren Gatland, he hopes playing in the Guinness PRO14 will keep him in the spotlight domestically and lead to more international honours.
“I’m very ambitious – I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t. It was a hard, but simple decision to join the Dragons and I felt I would have regretted it if I hadn’t taken it, explained Holmes.
“When I was at Leicester I might get one day to train and then I’d have to head back. The rest of the boys would get the whole week to train together. That wasn’t great for me – if you aren’t in the coaches eye line for the same amount of time as everything else it only makes it harder.
“I hope it will give me a better chance to get into the Welsh squad, although the first priority is getting a regular spot in the Dragons team under Dean Ryan. That’s my first priority and there are no guarantees.
“If I can put in performances that mean I get a shot at the Wales squad then great, but I won’t get that if I don’t play well at the Dragons. Wayne Pivac and his team have been very supportive and I’ve got a lot to thank them for.
“If I do get into the squad it will mean I won’t have to travel back and for and I will be more in the spotlight playing in the PRO14.”
The Dragons are hoping to add Saracens centre Nick Tompkins to their squad next week in a season long loan deal from the reigning European champions and former Australian international Joe Tomane is also poised to join from PRO14 champions Leinster.