A glorious day and a firm pitch were the setting for the Ospreys first run out of the 21/22 season. The pre-season has been structured around two away fixtures, first against a championship side, followed by a tougher examination from a premiership side. Yesterday, Booth decided to field two largely different sides in each half, with relatively few substitutions. Although Gareth Anscombe was in full kit and played a very full part in the pre match training, he did not take the field. The absence of Anscombe, Myler, Thomas and Protheroe forced Joe Hawkins into the 10 shirt for the majority of the game, with Aubrey relieving him in the final quarter. Playing with a makeshift 10 made it difficult to assess whether our structure had evolved from last season, so most of the observations needed to be focused on individual and unit performance.
The first 35 minutes was a throwback to the bad days of the later Tandy years. An undersized group of forwards, over reliant on Morgan Morris, struggling to carry over the gain line and win any line out ball beyond slow front of the line ball, and then trying to go wide with slow-ball from the breakdown, giving away turnovers and with a relatively pedestrian back three unable to cover back in time.
At least Michael Collins, playing in the 13 shirt, looked a few classes and wavelengths above anybody else on the pitch, and Cai Evans, playing on the left wing, looked really good under the high ball and went looking for work. He was comfortably the best back three player in the first half, and it was sad for him to get what looks like a nasty shoulder knock that could put him on the side lines for a couple of months.
The second half saw a group of more athletic forwards introduced. Will Griffiths and Rhys Davies brought order to the line out and dynamism in the open field. Ifan and Garyn Phillips greatly improved the carrying work, as did Ethan Roots, who looks to have shed some weight and appears in superb physical condition.
Jac Morgan looked the quality all round player that he is and Morgan Strong, while a little undersized, showed a lot of rugby smarts and added another technically good breakdown jackal into the mix.
Behind the scrum it was interesting to see Thomas-Wheeler moving to 12, where he looked far more comfortable and effective than he did last season when struggled to defend the 13 channel. Callum Carson at 13 may not have the physical size and talents of others, but he is a very instinctive rugby player.
The young player who continues to impress on limited viewings is Max Nagy. His long stride, foot speed, balance and distribution skills were very evident in a couple of our second half tries. It could be very worthwhile to give him some lengthy game time next Friday, to see how his defence measures up against far superior opposition.
Next Friday will be far more physical and hopefully some cavalry will be available, but it will be performance and avoiding injury that will be more important than the result as the pre- season draws to a close.