As a product of the PRO14, Leicester Tigers centre Joe Thomas is no stranger to long trips away from home.
The Celtic league calls on Scottish, Irish and Welsh sides to travel to Italy and, in recent seasons, as far afield as South Africa for their ‘domestic’ ties.
Such experience will stand Thomas in good stead this weekend as he heads to Calvisano with his Leicester team-mates for a European Challenge Cup clash.
“I’ve played out there in Italy quite a few times,” he recalls. “I’ve been out to Zebre – about an hour away from Calvisano – a couple of times, which has always been a really good experience.
“The Italians are real passionate people, so you know you’re going to get a tough game no matter what.
“They give everything they’ve got – and especially will do against a team like Leicester Tigers – so we’re under no illusions that it’s going to be an easy game.
“We’re expecting a tough, tough encounter, and that’s exactly what we’ve been preparing for this week. We want to go out and execute our game plan again.”
“We’re leaving no stone unturned.”Joe Thomas
Thomas’ most recent appearance in Leicester colours was a more obvious reminder of home, with the club’s first European trip of the season to his native Wales.
The 23-year-old started at outside centre for the Round 2 match at Cardiff Blues, with a young Tigers side snatching victory with the last kick of the game in a gritty Pool 5 fixture.
“That was a great game,” he adds. “Obviously, being Welsh and going back home, I think I must have been bouncing around the changing room – I was that excited to a get a chance in Europe!
“I got the chance to play against some boys I’ve played with through the age grades with Wales, so it was great to get the win against what was pretty much their first-choice side. I had all my friends and family there, so it was nice to play in front of them for Leicester.
“Going down to Cardiff and digging out a win them is credit to all the hard work from the boys. It wasn’t pretty, but that was our plan; it was wet and windy, and we knew we would have to grind a win out against them … and that’s exactly what we did.
“It was an awesome feeling to come off the pitch with a win.”
And it’s the spirit of that European victory – paired with bonus-point wins over Pau and Calvisano in recent weeks – that can push the Tigers squad on, according Thomas.
“We know we’re still building,” he says. “I know it feels weird to say it in December, but we’re still very early on in the season [because of the Rugby World Cup].
“We know we can get better, and we’re constantly working towards our goals.
“We’re nowhere near the finished article yet, but we’re all working our socks off to get to where we need to be.
“No matter who gets selected each weekend, you know you’re going to get a good shift out of every man. We’re leaving no stone unturned.”