Victories on the road have been rare events for the Ospreys in recent times. The challenge on Saturday for the Ospreys defence was an obvious one. They had to show they could close down an attack that generally plays at speed on its fast, artificial home track. Given our inability to score much more than 25 match points in any game, it was critical our defence turned up in terms of emotion, concentration, and organisation. There was little doubt the defence delivered in spades. The opposition were restricted to only two penalty goals, and other than one missed tackle on former Osprey James Ratti, that created a lengthy line break, the Cardiff attack was totally snuffed out. The back three looked totally comfortable in their defensive roles, and the players in front of them all showed complete concentration and desire to close down space and slow down the opponents breakdown. Cardiff were made to look impotent for large parts of the game.
The combination of Darren Edwards working on the organisational side, and Booth driving the emotional and personal desire side seems to be working, and with the likes of Tipuric, Lydiate, and AWJ on hand to help, the defence is certainly progressing. If we can get sufficient squad depth to continually be able to select back three players that have both sufficient pace and defensive awareness, then there should be continued progress, and losing bonus points on the road will become easier to obtain next season.
The attack has been rightly criticised throughout the season, and there is no doubt that had we been more capable in this phase we would be pushing for a playoff place, as the lack of bonus points relative to wins is a telling statistic. It would be easy to point a finger at the attack coach, but in many ways too easy, and possibly not correct. The failure to secure the try bonus point at the weekend was far more about poor execution than systemic issues. The driving maul was disrupted far more easily than expected, by a side that has regularly struggled at that phase. Whilst we could rightly point to some illegalities used by the opposition, we should have taken care of business more effectively in that phase. Too often we turned too much towards the touchline, limiting our options and several times lost shape when tries were there for the taking.
The other big issue with our attack throughout the season has been how poor our attacking breakdown is. Fast ball is a rarity. We struggle to get players over the gain line, and too many ruck clear outs are not made efficiently, hence we cannot put together any consistent multi-phase plays. We did show on Saturday that if we can get players over the gain line, and produce quicker phase-ball, we can make line breaks. It is obvious though, that we were nowhere near as comfortable and confident with the ball than we were without it.
It is probably fanciful to think a new attack coach could come in and wave a magic wand, but our attack has to improve. Keelan Giles showed his acceleration is returning, and he was regularly running good lines and threatening the gain line. We simply don't have the budget to find world-beating attackers, but we do have to find a way of getting our most explosive players on the ball more regularly and find ways of getting them over the gain line with moves that are simple to execute. Rather than an expensive attack coach, we may be better looking at a specialist who can help improve our attacking breakdown, in terms of players’ techniques and attacking patterns around it that are simple and easy to execute at speed. If we can get our attacking breakdown fixed, our attack will inevitably become easier to execute. This approach has already worked, with specialist throwing coach Simon Hardy transforming Dewi Lake's throwing from inconsistent to regularly consistent. It is something we have to address if we are to become a side that can score tries on a more regular basis. Our win percentage has improved dramatically under Booth but if we are to compete with the better sides, we need to be able to score tries against them. We have a chance to beat half the sides in the URC by scoring less than 25 points a game, but critically they will not be bonus point wins. We won't beat the other half when they are at full strength, or secure losing bonus points against them until we can sort out our lack of try scoring issues and be able to break that 25-point barrier.