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Monday Morning Quarterback View

The so-called Battle of the Budgets ended up as expected but it could have been oh so different. The realists amongst us appreciated that with such a high percentage of our annual budget in the treatment room, a home victory would have needed virtually all of the planets to align. Yet had we taken our chances the impossible could have been possible. An interception try that Matt Protheroe should take probably six times out of ten, and a ball inexplicably falling out of Luke Morgan's hands when running clear that should only happen one time in a hundred could have really put the pressure on Racing. An incredibly poor decision to not elect for a kick in front of the posts just before half time, and a couple of shocking decisions, firstly to take a quick tap from a penalty in range, and then secondly, a few minutes later to attempt one that was out of range due to the wider angle, meant we could not put points on the board before the respective benches entered the fray. Their strength in depth there was always going to be too much and so it proved to be.

Defensively we were far more at the races than in the previous two matches. Intensity from the entire team was superb, with Ethan Roots having one of his best games in creating that physicality. Sadly, we were again exposed by individual defensive errors on the left wing, and with a very poor effort in midfield covering an overthrow, but other than that the defensive system held up well against relentless and continuous attack. It seemed from the Toby Booth post-match conference that he had been heavily involved in defence during the week, alongside new appointee Darren Edwards. Booth also suggested that more experience within the coaching group is needed.

A team with a restricted playing budget needs to ensure its coaching set up below the top man has the necessary specialised skill sets. The scrum has been very effective all season, but the line out has regressed considerably, and whilst it is easy to blame the thrower, the line out variety and lifting looked well below standard. Unfortunately, Racing had the athletic jumpers to destroy us in that phase making our winning penalties at scrum time virtually useless. Fortunately, our defence of the driving maul was solid, but for a team that relies heavily on its set piece, rather than its phase play, not having a specialist line out coach appears a foolish economy. A review of the individual coaching responsibilities in the off-season looks essential to ensure that we are maximizing our chances on the field.

Europe is now over for us. Hopefully, it has shown that with some surgical recruitment, better luck with key players not being injured, more experience, and with a better blend of specialized skills and experience in the coaching group, we can, in the right conditions, get closer to some of these sides.

Finally, it was interesting to read over the weekend, in The Rugby Paper, that our gifted young scrum half Harri Morgan has been loaned to Ampthill, for their Championship Match against Bedford. The reporter at the match described him as a player clearly well above the level he was playing, with time on the ball that nobody else had. It was a description that anybody who watched the first half of the Scarlets A fixture in November would concur with. It will be interesting to see if the Ospreys communicate with their supporters about how long they feel he needs game time at this lower level, before it is time to see if he can perform at the higher level of the URC.

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