With the new Magners League campaign getting underway at Ravenhill on Friday evening, Sean Holley has spoken about the opening fixture against Ulster, as well as some of the issues around selection for the first game of the new season.
Speaking about the increased intensity in the competition, Holley said that while the Ospreys were proud of their Magners League record, they were anticipating a tough battle this season.
“The Magners League is a very competitive tournament now, and justifiably so” he said.
“We’ve always put an emphasis on it as we’ve realised the potential in it. People want to win it, it gives you a lot of kudos. We’ve won it three times, and it’s nice to be able to sit back and say that.
“We want to defend our title, the success in May out in Leinster doesn’t dull that ambition. But, we realise that it won’t be easy. We saw at the end of last season that there were seven teams still in the chase for the play-offs and that was good for the competition. It’s only going to get even more competitive this season, with the Italian sides coming in, who like some of the other teams have recruited very well.
“You look at the Blues, they are stronger than ever before and will want to win that title for a first time, they’ve never won a Magners League title before so there’ll be expectations on them. Ulster, first up for us, they look as though they’ve really gone for it this year as well. They’ve recruited heavily from the southern hemisphere since last season and will definitely be a tough nut to crack.
“Ravenhill is never an easy place to go, particularly for the opening game, and I wouldn’t imagine it being any different on Friday. We’re are able to put a strong team out that we are confident can go out there and compete, despite the restrictions and complications that injury and international duty bring with them, and we’re all really looking forward to just getting on with it now.
“We’ve got a training group of Mike Phillips, Adam Jones, Tommy Bowe, Duncan Jones, Alun Wyn Jones and Tom Prydie, who will continue with their pre-season this week. Clearly with some of the injuries we’ve got and the make-up of our squad, it’s a necessity in the case of some of our internationals that they have to play this week.
“Clearly, Jonathan Thomas, Dan Biggar, Paul James, Huw Bennett and Lee Byrne, they are still in the middle of their pre-season so it’s not ideal, but when you take one or two players out of the equation with injury then it leaves us a bit short. The ideal would be that they would all be in the training group, in the fourth week of their pre-season, but we’ve got to play a game. What we’ll have to do is manage them properly and find windows for them when the others come back.
“The players in the training group are all at slightly different stages. If you look at Duncan, he was available this week but we chose to give him another week so it’s likely he’ll be involved against Treviso. Then you look at the difference between Tommy Bowe and Tom Prydie for example, Tom has played a couple of pre-season games as we wanted to have a closer look at him, while Tommy has played a lot of rugby over the last year or two. Alun Wyn hasn’t had an off-season since he started playing professional rugby, so when you are making a decision over him or JT to play this week, clearly, JT with his injuries hasn’t played that much over the last two seasons so that’s the deciding factor there.
“We’ve always recognised that JT’s primary position is in the back row. He’s played in a number of positions for us, out of necessity, last year he was in the second row with Ian Evans injured, but with Ian coming back and Ryan injured and Filo retiring, there’s a natural progression for him there.
“It’s good to have Ian Evans back as well. There aren’t many 6ft 9 players around in Wales are there? He’s a physical presence, and a fully fit, fully flying Ian Evans is a real asset. He brings a bit of an edge and his obvious height in the set piece so it’s great to see Ian there. He’s had a good pre-season and he’s grown in confidence as it’s gone on. It’s a clean slate for him and he feels fresh, fit and ready to go.
“It’s going to be a tough evening to start the season with, but it’s good to be focussing on match day again after a good pre-season. Kick-off on Friday can’t come soon enough.”