The Ospreys go into battle against Leinster on Friday (KO 7.05pm) in the opening fixture of the 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12 campaign, and Ian Gough is predicting a typically tough 80 minutes against the Irish side.
“It’ll be an interesting game” he said.
“They’ve got strength in depth, a good squad that will test most teams so we know that we are in for another battle. Is it ever any different when you play Leinster? We had a couple of really tight games against them last season, winning narrowly at the Liberty and then losing another close one in Dublin, when our youngsters pushed them all the way.
“It will be another tough one again on Friday, it really will. They are a quality outfit, you don’t get to be European champions without strength in depth, and they’ve been very consistent over the years. That’s what they bring with them every time regardless of whether the internationals are out.
“It’s a great test for the first game of the new season. It’s nice to begin on your own patch, and for some of the boys coming into the team it’s good that they are in a familiar environment. To be at home in front of your own supporters will certainly give everyone a good boost and hopefully, we can put on the kind of performance that will send them home happy.”
As for the Ospreys, Gough says that spirits are high at Llandarcy Academy of Sport as preparations for the new season go up a notch, and he believes that the success of this group of players during the last international break can only spur the team on over the coming weeks:
“It’s been very good here. We had time away at a camp last week, it was tough, it was hard and it took some people out of their comfort zone, but it was a bit of fun as well. It was a good way to round off pre-season before the build-up this week to our first game on Friday. It’s good for the camaraderie, it’ll help cement relationships and we can take the buzz forward as a group.
“I think the LV= Cup campaign and the Six Nations period last season really allowed this group to put a marker down. It was a good opportunity for some of the young lads who really proved what they can do, and sent a message to the other lads that if you perform you can get in to the team and it can make a difference in selection. I think a lot of them are approaching the first few weeks of the season in the same way and that can only be a good thing for the Ospreys.”
With the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand having an obvious effect on squads in all European leagues, Gough says that the dynamics are different for everyone this season – but he insists it’s a huge positive for the Ospreys:
“It adds something different to the season, it definitely does. It’s a little bit of the unknown and more than ever it’s a case of who can hit the ground running. It’s about who can get the rhythm quickest, the belief as a team, when they are introducing a number of players to the squad. It’s a completely different dynamic to last season, or to what there will be next summer, and it’s exciting, even to an old head like me.
“It’s a real challenge and a great chance for some of our players who maybe unfamiliar to our supporters, who maybe haven’t featured much in the past. There’ll be players right across the squad who will be looking to take advantage of someone’s absence and if they can jump into that place and do well, they will hope to make that place their own.
“We are a very tight-knit bunch and you can expect to see us reflecting that in the way we play, playing for each other and putting in a gritty performance. We’ve got skilful players who can add a bit of finesse to that out wide, but doing it as a team is key.”
Now approaching his 35th birthday, Gough has been around the pre-season block plenty of times in his lengthy career, but even so, he says he is enjoying the current one as much as any so far:
“The boys have done really well in pre-season, trained really hard, and are ready to go now. Pre-season is always tough, I should know as I’ve been through a few of them over the years. There’s been a fresh impetus this summer with youngsters stepping up and some new faces coming in as well. They’ve been adjusting to doing things the Ospreys way but they’ve also been able to bring something different to the group, which is good.
“When you get to the week of the first game though, it doesn’t matter if you are a youngster in your first season or an old pro like Mefin Davies, you get really excited about what’s ahead. You just want to get back out there, you hope that you will get selected to wear that jersey on the opening weekend, and hopefully, you’re able to make a good impression in the shirt. That’s a big thing, young or old, and everybody in the squad will be eager to help the team off to good start on Friday.”
Tickets for Friday’s game at the Liberty Stadium are now available to buy at the Liberty Stadium Ticket Office, online at this link or via the Ticket Hotline on 0844 815 6665, with prices starting at just £1 for accompanied U16’s in the family area.