We’re rounded up all of Matt Sherratt’s key points from his press conference at Llandarcy on Tuesday, looking ahead to Friday’s Guinness PRO14 game against Ulster at the Morganstone Brewery Field.
Here’s what he had to say about…
Status of the Squad:
- We’re pretty healthy. We had a break so we had a week off after the Glasgow game, which gave the boys an opportunity to get away and take their minds off rugby for a little bit. Last week we were in for a bit of fitness and conditioning focus to give them a bit of a spike. But from Thursday last week, all eyes have been on Ulster.
- Dan Lydiate is in our return to play group and he trained with the academy group yesterday along with Dan Baker. For me, it was brilliant to see Dan Baker running around and running lines. He’s someone we miss, a ball carrier in the back-row. Over the next two-four weeks, they’re going through their return to play protocols. It’s great to see them running around with the ball in their hands.
Releases from the Wales Squad:
- I don’t expect any back to be honest. I think in the autumn, Wales wanted to keep numbers there for the quality of their training as obviously they need 15 against 15. Most of our players are starters or in the squad so I think it’s about trusting the boys who are here. Thinking back to Connacht in the last block in the autumn at home in Bridgend, they did a job for us and we’ll be looking to repeat that.
Current state of play:
- It’s very tight in the table, its almost tightened right up from the top. There was a danger of Glasgow and Munster maybe pulling right away, but they’ve had a couple of results which have almost drawn them back into the pack so between us, the Blues, Connacht, Glasgow, Munster and the Cheetahs sneaking a couple of wins and drawing closer, it looks like it could be an interesting last seven games for us.
- Once you get within a win then there’s obviously the opportunity to overhaul the top two. It’s my third season in this league now and this period is massively crucial. I know most coaches will probably say it, but whilst the internationals are away, we get hit pretty heavily with that. The back-up in your squad and their ability to grind out results against other squads that have also been hit heavily will determine where you finish at the end of the season. After the next three or four games, you get your reinforcements back and then you are hopefully picking from a full squad.
- There’s no getting away from it, the next three or four weeks are crucial, that will determine what the end of the season looks like. If we are in touch after these three or four games, as I expect us to be, then you look to pick off the Glasgow and Munster.
What we’re expecting from Ulster:
- I know Ulster pretty well. Dwayne Peel is the Ulster attack coach and I worked with him in Bristol when he made the transition from player to coach. As you’d expect from a scrum-half coach, they are pretty positive and they make the most passes in the league. They look to play a pretty good brand of rugby so hopefully if the conditions dictate it should be an exciting game.
- They are a good team. They lose boys to the Irish set up, but if you look at their back-up, they’re a pretty strong province.
- Any time you play as a player or coach against an old team, I think you probably try to tell people it doesn’t give you an extra edge or motivation, but in reality that familiarity with the rest of the staff and the players, probably does give you an extra ten per cent in the week. It will be a nice one to try and get a win for Clarkie against his old province.
Morganstone Brewery Field:
- When you go to another part of the region, the little things that people wouldn’t think would make a difference actually does. When we got off the bus at the Brewery Field, a group of children from Bridgend Juniors clapped the boys off – it was just a different experience. I think overall, it proved to be a positive experience.
- Obviously it’s much smaller, a little bit more of a cosy environment but this only adds to the atmosphere and for me, personally, it was great to go and see another part of the region.
- We’ve been criticised for kicking the ball, now all of a sudden England are the best team in the world. I think they kicked the ball something like 47 times at the weekend and probably if France had caught those, I think they probably would have kicked too much but because they scored off them, it was a genius tactic.
- England are playing smart and they have got very good ball carriers, so if you look at all their attacks they get Tuilagi on the ball, second phase Billy Vunipola, third phase Mako Vunipola, so they are a team that are built on momentum and have very good ball carriers.
- If they lose two gain lines, they’re looking to go aerial because in 9 and 10, Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell who are class half-backs, who can put the high-ball into the 15metre channel. You can see from their social media, and the footage that they send out of their training, they are doing a lot of work on aerial skills. The game is pretty simple really, if you can go forward you stand a good chance and if you lose momentum from carrying then it makes sense to go to the air – credit to England, they’ve probably seen something in the French defence and it’s a plan that obviously came off.
- Defence is very organised today. If you look at all the Six Nations games, four of England’s tries came from a kick, Ireland’s try came from a kick through mistake by Scotland, Connor Murray scored. If you look at all the games they’re from little kicks through, turn overs. There are very few games now that you watch if you actually study them that have three-man overlaps or someone’s created something, even one of England’s little plays, they come back on the short side and kick through and they score off that third phase.
- I learnt a fair bit when I went to New Zealand for a few weeks and they talk about attacking the back field space, they don’t term it as ‘kicking’. Obviously all attack coaches would say to attack space, they would say if the defence is loaded front line, lets attack the space with the ball in the back field – its just another way of attacking space. You need good soft kicking skills to be able to make it count.
- The foolish thing would be to kick a lot and not practice winning the ball back, so a lot of our kicks are in high field position. Obviously three or four kicks a game you probably think you should have run that but probably then three or four times we run it and you could argue that we should have kicked it. The key is definitely about balance, which is what England have got now. It’s what everyone wants to get to, is any defence coach that comes up against them has got to cover off their kicking game. The temptation may be to focus on defending the back-field, but England are smart so if they leave an extra number in the back-field they can play to space with a pass as well. It’s all about balance.