With the second week of pre-season training now well underway, Scott Johnson says that preparations for the new campaign are going well.
It was a later start than usual, but as Johnno explained, the circumstances that led to the delayed return are ones that he’s keen to repeat this season:
“The boys came back a little late because it was a bit of a late finish with the Grand Final at the end of May, but we’d rather have that late finish and a delayed start than to have been all wrapped up in the first weekend of May.
“They were given some goals to achieve when they went away and I’m pretty happy with the way they’ve handled themselves over the summer to be honest. They’ve been tested and it looks as though everyone has come back in better nick than they left us so it’s all credit to them. It means they’ve got the balance right over the summer, with the work and play in the right proportions, and we’re really happy with them.”
With a substantially reduced squad currently taking part in training at the region’s Llandarcy Academy of Sport HQ, Johnno will welcome back members of Wales’s Junior World Championship squad for training today, before the senior international contingent report for pre-season testing on Monday 2nd August to take the squad up to the full complement. Whilst previously the staggered return may have caused some headaches, the Australian is confident that this summer will be different:
“We’re a little bit further down the track now than we were last summer,” he said. “That’s the big difference between this year and last year. Ahead of last season there was a lot of implementation to do, a lot of building to do, and we don’t have that this time. Instead, we can try to expand on what we implemented last year, while getting the new guys to settle in as quickly as possible.
“Because of this, I think the integration of the different groups as they return will be a lot easier than it was last year. We’re progressing, we’ve got a more solid base to push forward from and I think we’ll see how that can have a positive effect on what we are doing day-to-day in pre-season. This year is about taking the group to another level and not starting afresh, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to move on pretty quick when we have the whole squad back. It’s definitely not as big a concern as it was last year, put it that way.”
Given the number of absentees in the camp at this time of the year it inevitably means condensed training groups with members of the B and C training groups stepping up to taste life with the senior squad. Tom Prydie was one notable example of a player taking his opportunity to shine last summer, and Johnson says he’ll be taking a close look at everyone this time around:
“It absolutely is a time for people to stand up and show what they are capable of. There’s been a couple of standouts, a few boys who’ve caught the eye. Eli Walker for one looks superb, he’s got ability and real confidence to go with it. Gareth Owen is another, he’s worked hard physically and because of that his presence has changed. Justin Tipuric is someone who’s shown great quality and some great touches in the first few weeks of training.
“Ryan Bevington is working hard as well, it’s a big year for him because he did so well towards the end of last season and this year people are going to have higher expectations of him. What he’s definitely shown is that he wants to rise to that particular challenge.
“It’s been an interesting few weeks, there’s a good mix of youth and experience in the group at the moment and I think there’ll be a few kids will come through this year and catch a few people out. We’ve got a great crop of young fellas, and that’s not including the Beck’s and the Prydie’s who haven’t trained yet. When you look at it, the next batch of Welsh internationals, there’s every chance that a large percentage of them will be Ospreys which will be great for the region.”