POWERFUL back-rower Gerrit-Jan van Velze has been appointed as the new Worcester Warriors captain.

The 26-year-old skippered Warriors’ pre-season clashes with Sale Sharks and Exeter Chiefs and has now been given the role on a permanent basis.

The South African replaces former Wales international Jonathan Thomas, who will miss the start of the season through injury.

Van Velze was part of the Northampton Saints side which lifted the Aviva Premiership trophy at Twickenham in May and moved to Sixways this summer.

He will be supported by Chris Pennell, who has again been named as vice-captain.

Warriors director of rugby Dean Ryan said: GJ has displayed true leadership qualities since joining the club this summer and demonstrated his ability to influence the side in a positive way throughout the pre-season campaign.”

Meanwhile, Ryan insists an opening-day victory at Bristol would put a big smile on everyone’s faces — but nothing more.

The Sixways chief says Warriors will need to focus on ‘growing’ over the entire Greene King IPA Championship campaign and peaking when it matters.

Ryan admits rivals Bristol have adopted a ‘conflicting’ policy to his own of recruiting experienced players in a bid to return to the top tier of English rugby.

“Success in the Championship is about being successful in the play-offs,” said Ryan.

“We all want a good start and I am not going to lie — we will be a lot happier on Monday with a win under our belts.

“It is a different dynamic than the Premiership because if you don’t get a good start in the Premiership, it’s very difficult to recover.

“The nature of it being Bristol first up for us is putting a huge amount of focus on the start of the season — but it is really about where we finish in May.”

Warriors will be backed by three 49-seater official supporters’ coaches plus many fans who will make their own way to Ashton Gate for the eagerly-anticipated opener.

Worcester will be without fly-half Ryan Lamb, who has undergone neck surgery, while back-rower Andries Pretorius and Ryan Mills are also sidelined.

Ryan said: “Both camps will be aware it’s about growth over the next eight or nine months and the form in May.

“Bristol have made decisions about the direction they believe will bring them success and some of that is in conflict with what I believe in — but that’s for them.”