Gruff Rees says that the Ospreys will be using the disappointment of missing out on the top four as motivation to achieve greater things next season.
The Ospreys’ Backs Coach was in a reflective mood when he met with the press post-match, fielding their questions and analysing the region’s performance in a season where they failed to make the play-offs, finishing in fifth place, four points behind Ulster in fourth spot.
As he looked back at the ups and downs of the campaign, Rees pointed to the improvements that he believes point to a positive future, while pin-pointing where he thinks the team has fallen short over the last nine months.
“There’s definitely some lingering regrets. I can’t deny that” said Rees.
“When you look at not just last week, but different parts of the season, times when players are away, certain games where we’ve lost in certain periods, they do catch up in the end.
“You also look at numbers and try to put things in perspective. We wanted to add some try scoring potency to the team this year and we’ve done that. We’ve been Rabo top try scorers, and I know there’s been a bit of ‘flat-track bullying at times’, but my view is everyone plays everyone so I am pleased with that aspect.
“66 points has got sides consistently into the semi-final in previous years, we’ve got in there with 62 before now. Ultimately though, we haven’t nailed the top four. We’ve had a good, professional performance today but there’s some disappointment that hopefully will carry though to next season and make us a more dangerous and resentful animal next year.
“We’ve got to up the ante, we’ll keep tweaking and evolving our attacking game. As I said, we’ve made some significant improvements. We realise it’s not all about tries, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, but not only did we score more tries, we scored more points than any other team, we made more clean breaks than any team, we’ve beaten more defenders than any team, we’ve gone in the opposition 22 more than any other team.
“There lies a weakness as well, we don’t put sides away, we are not clinical or ruthless enough, and that shows in the games we haven’t won so there’s a focus point for us. We’ve been pretty effective, last week notwithstanding, at picking up points and in particular compared to last year, picking up bonus points against those sides that are in the lower reaches. But, Leinster apart, we haven’t been good enough against our competitors, against those around the top four.
“That’s what’s cost us as much as the blow last week. We have to take our overall game on now to beat Glasgow home, Munster home,and to pick up other significant results away from home. We need to be sharper with ball in hand and better at putting sides away, but also, we need to be a more rounded team.
“Before, we were the best defensive team in the league and clearly, this year, that’s been eroded slightly. There’s a lot of new, young, pros in the group, getting up to speed with our defensive system, and you saw last week how loose we were. We’ve got to put things in place to tighten that up. It’s about marrying those two parts of the game and we could really see this team start to flourish, albeit knowing that it’s far from the finished article and it’s going to take a lot of work.
“We need to up the ante in terms of how we prepare, to enable ourselves to be able to win on a weekly basis, to make sure we are the best we can be every week, because we haven’t always done that this season.
“I’m a pretty half-full kind of guy. We’ve said in the week about the rebuilding process that’s there and I don’t think anyone can underestimate what we have lost, and what we are losing, in terms of experience and personnel. We are not going to be perfect, we are still going to get the odd blip on the horizon, but we will work our damnedest.
“There’s 7 or 8 young professionals in that group tonight, we’ll drip feed a few more in year on year while trying to retain the best Welsh talent and recruit some smart overseas players to supplement what we’ve got, and we can be there or thereabouts. Whether we can push from where we are to top end European sides immediately, no, but gradually, we think we will get bigger and better.
“I know we took the brunt of it after last week but we’ve got to take a step back and realise the reality of where we are. Obviously, we’re not where we were as league champions two years ago but there’s a reason for it. It’s not a lack of effort in the group or, I’d hope, the detail of coaching they get. It’s losing players and trying to rebuild from within. For that, the shoots of recovery are there.
“You can do the best you can, but it’s not linear. There’s things you can’t control, the calendar and where players get pulled in different directions, and the growth of the players can hit us hard in terms of the recognition they get internationally and also contractually as they go through two or three year periods and potentially become elite level players.
“We’ve got to try and find ways to support that with our work with the Union and our partners, so that we can keep retaining the top talent and putting some cream on the top as well.”