The Young Ospreys under 18 team set the target for the others by beating the Scarlets at Aberavon RFC on Friday 6th January. They were comfortable winners by 20 points to 8 with prop Ryan Bevington and full back Luke Hathaway scoring tries which were conv
The Young Ospreys under 18 team set the target for the others by beating the Scarlets at Aberavon RFC on Friday 6th January. They were comfortable winners by 20 points to 8 with prop Ryan Bevington and full back Luke Hathaway scoring tries which were converted by wing Leigh Halfpenny, to add to his two penalties. This early victory certainly put some pressure on the players and coaches of the under 20 and 16 age groups and, they responded with positive intent.
Firstly the under 20 team qualified for the final by topping their group after losing only one game and that was their first match at Stradey Park, against the Scarlets in September. Therefore the final offered a great challenge in that if they wanted to be crowned champions they would need to overcome this initial failure and beat the Scarlets in their own backyard. Both sides were without a few of their key players through injury and demands of the Premiership, but Head Coach Garin Jenkins’ policy of rotating his squad throughout the season ensured that the Young Ospreys team was both confident and experienced at this level. They totally dominated the game from start to finish and if it had been a boxing match the referee might have finished the game early. However, the Scarlets were blessed with a committed and organised defence which kept out a number of promising Osprey opportunities. At half time the Young Osprey coaching staff (Garin Jenkins, Keith Holifield and Jeff Pick) could not understand how they trailed by a Sam Kiley try to two penalties by Rhys Priestand. Outside half Priestland was certainly the catalyst in the Scarlets team and when he created a try out of nothing for wing Aled Jenkins half way through the second half; it looked like it wouldn’t be a day of celebration for the Young Ospreys. However, if Priestland was the Scarlets catalyst then replacement scrum half Stuart Allen became the Young Ospreys one as he tapped a quick penalty to put outside half Nick Roberts over for a try and followed this up with an intelligent chip kick that gave exciting wing Leigh Bevan the opportunity to score in the corner. With prop Neil White scoring a try and Roberts adding a penalty and conversion it meant that the Young Ospreys were able to run out deserving winners by 25 points to 18.
So on Sunday 30th April the under 16 players and coaches (Alex Evans, David Jones and Andrew Millward) felt the added pressure of needing to win in order to gain a treble that was achieved by the Scarlets last season. Like the under 20 team they had topped their group but needed to beat the Dragons in their own backyard (Rodney Parade) after narrowly losing to them in September. Like the under 20’s on the previous day the team could be accused of playing too much “football” while their opponents had a simple game plan of attempting to stay in their opponents twenty two. As the Young Ospreys dominated possession the Dragons lived of scraps but managed to achieve their goal of kicking into the Ospreys twenty two and gaining a first half lead of 12 points to 3. For the second day on the trot Young Osprey coaches must have been scratching their heads as to how they could be losing the game at half time. Nevertheless they managed to convince the team to maintain a belief in their ability and that important factor saw them score 33 unanswered points in a second half that they totally dominated. Centre Ashley Beck scored two tries, while fellow centre Kristian Phillips, wing Dean Williams and outside half Daniel Bigger all grabbed one a piece. Bigger also kicked a penalty and four conversions for a match total of 16 points. In rugby there is a saying that suggests that “the forwards win matches while the backs decide by how much”; this game was a prime example of that adage as the Young Ospreys forwards performed better than at any time during the season.
Rugby at this level is about development of individual players and not merely about winning trophies, however, winning this treble will certainly boost the confidence of the young players that achieved it. But now they have raised the bar to a level that will demand refocusing and a concerted effort on behalf of everyone (management and players) if these high standards are to be maintained; defending a trophy is seen as more difficult than winning it in the first place, as the Scarlets have found out this season.