Ospreys boss says last two months has been toughest of his coaching career
Ospreys boss Toby Booth says his team’s block of fixtures over the past two months has been the toughest he has encountered in his entire coaching career.
The Welsh region’s last eight matches in the BKT United Rugby Championship and Champions Cup have been as follows: Vodacom Bulls (away), Cell C Sharks (a), Leicester (home), Montpellier (a), Scarlets (h), Cardiff (a), Leinster (h) and Montpellier (h).
Having completed the double over French title holders Montpellier with a thrilling 35-29 victory last weekend, they complete their Euro group campaign by travelling to English champions Leicester on Friday night hoping to book a spot in the last 16.
Booth has been coaching for more than 20 years now, having had previous spells with Gallagher Premiership clubs London Irish, Bath and Harlequins.
But he’s not known anything like the past two months before.
“This, without a doubt, has been the hardest period of my coaching career in relation to opposition, off-field challenge, unknowns and uncertainty,” said Booth.
“But that’s the beauty of coaching. That’s why we do what we do. It’s not straight forward and you have to find a way.”
The Ospreys’ bonus point victory at home to Montpellier last weekend was part of a Welsh clean-sweep, while 13 of the 16 URC teams were victorious across the two European competitions.
“I think it speaks volumes to be fair,” said Booth.
“We have talked about the South African teams coming into the URC and raising the bar and they have certainly done that. It’s increased the physicality of the league and we have had to respond to that.
“We have had to work out how we can compete physically because we are often up against bigger teams. So it provides good learning opportunities and allows us to look at doing things slightly differently to make us more robust.
“The other thing the URC gives you is we are used to playing different places, different countries, lots of travel. That creates a certain resilience and adaptability. You have to adapt to different refereeing, different continents.
“Europe, if you think about it, is quite close to that. The URC provides some of the challenges that you need to face on a weekly basis so it becomes more normal. So the league format does allow us an opportunity to be very competitive in Europe, for sure.”
Leinster, Cell C Sharks, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Connacht, Glasgow, the Scarlets and Benetton have already qualified with a game to spare in their Euro competitions and a number of fellow URC sides are set to join them, including, in all probability, the Dragons.
The Ospreys are certain of featuring in the knock-out stages of one of the events, with four teams from the Champions Cup heading for the second-tier tournament, but they look odds on to progress in the elite tournament based on the group standings.
Pool-topping Cardiff and the Scarlets have already secured home ties in the Challenge Cup last 16 as they prepare for French trips to Brive and Bayonne respectively this weekend.
The Dragons can follow suit by beating the Emirates Lions at Rodney Parade on Sunday in something of a winner-takes-all clash in terms of home advantage at the knock-out stage.
Unbeaten Leinster are out in front in both the URC and their Champions Cup pool, so what are their thoughts on how the league prepares them for Europe?
Here’s the take from their Kiwi assistant coach Andrew Goodman.
“There have been a number of tight games in the URC where we have been pushed and had to come through some tricky scenarios,” he said.
“All those matches have prepared us really well for what comes up in the European fixtures.
“The intensity of the inter-pro matches over the holiday period was right up there and we talked about the Ospreys game and what great preparation that was going into Gloucester.”
Former centre Goodman had a two season spell as a player at Leinster from 2012-14 during the era of the old RaboDirect Pro12.
So now that he has returned to the province after coaching back home in New Zealand with Tasman and the Crusaders, how does the URC compare with what he experienced a decade ago?
“The South African teams coming in has added a new dimension and made it really competitive,” he said.
“It has definitely increased the strength of the league and you can see how well they are doing in the European competition now as well.
“The different styles of rugby going head to head against each other week to week is great to see and as a coach it keeps you on your toes.”
Leinster have 15 wins from 15 matches in all competitions so far this term as they prepare to host Racing 92 in the Champions Cup on Saturday.
So is it possible for them to go through the entire season undefeated?
“You will have to wait and see! It’s possible,” replied Goodman.
“We still see massive growth in our game. We will just keep chipping away and taking the wins as we go through. Let’s talk again at the end of the year!”
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