Good start needed to give Ospreys play-off chance

Improvement needed on last season is the message as PRO12 fixtures are confirmed

Gruff Rees has urged the team to hit the ground running when the PRO12 season gets underway at the start of September.

The fixture schedule for 2013/14 was revealed today, with the Ospreys kicking off the new campaign with back-to-back games on the road against Treviso and champions Leinster, before they welcome Edinburgh to the Liberty Stadium for the first home fixture.

Last season saw a stuttering start, with three defeats on the bounce in the opening weeks ultimately costing the Ospreys a place in the end of season play-offs, and Rees says that it is crucial the team gets off to a better start this time around:

“We are working hard to ensure we start the season better this time, that’s a fair comment” he said.

“Going zero from three last year meant that we spent the entire season playing catch-up and even though our results were pretty good for the most part throughout the rest of the year, ultimately we had too much to do as it left us with no margin for error.

“It’s important that we avoid that this year. It’s not an easy start to the season by any stretch of the imagination, with Treviso and Leinster away both very difficult fixtures, but we have to start better to give us the best chance of finishing in the top four which has to be our first target.”

Summer recruitment has seen the arrival of three international backs in the shape of Italian scrum-half Tito Tebaldi, Canadian wing Jeff Hassler and Fijian Aisea Natoga, who can cover at centre, wing and full-back, along with another Canadian international, Tyler Ardron, who can play in the second or back row.

With the added cover provided by the new faces, along with the continued development of some of the youngster blooded during last season, Rees believes that the Ospreys will be better placed to contest on three fronts this season:

“With our recruitment we’ve looked at the areas where we were light on numbers last season and brought in players who we believe will make a difference in those positions.

“With the presence of these players there is going to be greater depth, more options, particularly at a time at the start of the season when different groups of players may be working to different conditioning targets with the impact that sometimes has on selection.

“We’re also in a better position when you look at the experience people like Ben John, Tom Habberfield, James King and Lloyd Peers gained during a season where we hit by injuries. They’ve shown that they can compete at this level and again it increases the depth in the squad.

“It’s going to be another tough season, no doubt. The PRO12 goes from strength to strength and is an excellent competition, while our European group will be challenging, but we’ve got confidence in the group of players we have available here and will be looking to build some momentum in the opening weeks that we can then take throughout the season.”