Updated: Apr 2, 2021
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
This was not a pretty game for the rugby purists or even the fair-weather rugby fans to watch. It was a titanic struggle between two teams who struggled to break down the opposition’s defence with all bar one of the tries being close range efforts primarily from mauls.
The Ospreys have started the last few games incredibly well, scoring the opening try in each of them viz Leinster, Munster, and yesterday’s foe – Benetton Treviso.
There was also the mental strength to launch a comeback from a 12-point deficit when down a man and with twenty-one minutes to go, scoring two tries in the process. The Ospreys physically breaking the spirit of a dogged Treviso side who looked to have run out of steam after giving their everything in what, had seemed for long periods, was going to be a nailed on away victory. The dynamism of the carrying in the final quarter, which broke the gain line and enabled us to attack in the wider channels, was in marked contrast to the turgid attempts to cross the gain line of the first sixty minutes.
Rhys Davies, in his first start looks a very good line out forward. Will Griffiths continues to be our most effective forward in contact and it spoke volumes that Booth kept him on for the full eighty, substituting more experienced players. George North was comfortably our best back, getting himself heavily involved in carrying and making jackals that were technically superior to any seen from our forwards.
Scoring two tries from driving mauls against Treviso is also a feather in the cap of whoever is coaching that aspect.
The fast start which we saw yesterday, and in the previous two games, was again followed by surrendering a stream of penalties and making numerous errors. Teams like Leinster and Munster were never going to be caught when you hand them a decent lead, but fortunately, Treviso are not at that level.
Our most significant problems seem to be centred on the breakdown. In attack, the accuracy of the clean out and the timing and numbers of the support pods looks very badly organised. The opposition defenders seem to have a better idea of where our carrier is going than his support players do. We just get isolated so easily and through either bad timing or technique, miss the clear out. Maybe with the way Pro 14 official police the breakdown we need to consider whether we are sending enough players into the breakdown or seek to seriously improve their timing and technique. Good teams will not tire as easily as Treviso did in the final quarter.
Defensively, our lack of jackals at the breakdown is also hurting us. Our three best jackals Nicky Smith, Sam Parry, and Tips are all locked away with Team Wales, and we have to find more jackals who attack the ball if we are to have any chance of slowing down some of the juggernaut attacks we will face as the season goes on.
Gareth Evans’ red card fortunately turned out not to be as costly as it looked it would be. He was shown the red card after a TMO intervention came when a Treviso player was down injured after, yet another breakdown penalty went against the Ospreys. Evans had come charging into the ruck very late, because somebody in the pod supporting Kieron Williams had blown their assignment and his upright body position was a perfect example of how not to charge into contact. It was clearly not intentional but under current guidelines there were no mitigating factors to prevent a red card.
Our breakdown work has gone from bad to ugly in recent weeks and it is not clear if this is a coaching issue or a player issue. It is probably the biggest issue preventing us from playing decent rugby. Is it because of our lack of foot speed that we are playing in very narrow channels and the opposition have worked this out and get there in numbers, or is it a lack of technique and lack of power? This looks a huge issue for Booth to solve particular given the questionable quality of Pro 14 officials in this area. He may need some outside coaching help. He certainly needs some better breakdown and carrying players.