Back in Black
The Ospreys are back, a shade under 200 days since their last appearance, hoping to give a recently beleaguered support base a much-welcomed fillip. The Booth era begins with a XXIII unrecognisable from the injury-decimated and RWC-ravaged squad that stumbled their way ignominiously through the pre-Covid 2019/20 season. While Booth’s initial selection has all the hallmarks of pre-season (despite being the latest end to season on record) there are a few signs of what we might come to expect from the new coaching regime.
Fans who have laboured through recent Ospreys performances devoid of any ball-carrying power would be relieved to hear that Booth once declared that: “Rugby is a momentum-based invasion game… you need dominance from a ball-carrying point of view.” While the Ospreys might not be able to call on the latest incarnation of Filo, the green shoots of a ball-carrying spring can be glimpsed if you squint at Booth’s first selection.
The selections at hooker, number eight and inside centre catch the eye in this respect. Sam Parry with Dewi Lake on the bench at the expense of wide-ranging tyro Scott Otten suggests a desire to guts the ball up the middle, while Morgan Morris is arguably the Ospreys’ best close quarter carrier with breakaway potential. The oft-injured Kieran Williams is a midfield arbitrage of Morris: low-slung, energetic and direct, with the ability to punish teams after contact. Even the inclusion of the comparatively leaden-footed but strong Olly Cracknell hints that the new Director of Coaching wants to see a team that has a competitive front-foot platform.
While all fans will be united by relief that the rarer-spotted internationals are back after being sequestered in Pivac’s mothball factory, the return of stalwarts Dan Evans and Tom Botha will also be welcomed, especially after missing so much of the Albatross-cursed previous season. The inclusion on the bench of a quartet of greenhorns in Will Griffiths, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Josh Thomas and Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler also has a forward-looking aspect to it which will interest supporters worried about the unevenness of the current squad.
Josh Thomas in particular, expected to debut in relief of new signing Stephen Myler, is an intriguing selection as outside half looks to be as close to a problem position as the Ospreys have. With Luke Price shelved by injury and Anscombe seemingly destined to never don the colours, Cai Evans was considered to be the natural back-up to Myler, so Josh Thomas’s audition might be auspicious.
2020 has been somewhat unkind to anyone who fancies themselves as a prognosticator so I’ll refrain from a score prediction but I will be looking out for early signs of the Booth-trademark high ball-in-hand brand of attack. Fans of the optimistic sensibility should also temper this with the expectation of some significant ring-rustiness and, if the first rounds of Kiwi rugby are any guide, over-fussy refereeing.
Who cares though?
The Ospreys are back, no matter how strange and surreal the circumstances.