As the Ospreys preparations for Saturday's LV= Cup game against Bath continue to be hampered by a lengthy absentee list, Director of Coaching Scott Johnson has insisted that the situation will prove to be a positive one for the region.
Speaking about the situation, which has seen the Ospreys handing debuts to five players in the last two games, with potentially more to come on Saturday, Johnson said:
“We are in an unusual position at the moment, there’s no escaping that, we’ve got a substantial number of players unavailable for whatever reason. You have to say that the circumstances are providing a great opportunity for some of our younger players, the likes of King and Tipuric who did so well last Thursday, they are revelling it.
“It’s a test for us. It’s a test for our Academy, but it gives us an opportunity to view the players of the future. I think we’ve got to view this period as an exciting time, a challenge yes, but ultimately, a lucky time for us as we get to see the quality of player that we have coming through the ranks.”
12 Ospreys are currently away on international duty, 10 with Wales plus Tommy Bowe (Ireland) and Nikki Walker (Scotland), and although coaches at the region had put in place a new development structure this season that would see younger players integrated into the squad during this period, the depth of the squad has been tested to its limit by an ever growing injury list that has led to them having to dip into Academy resources for replacements. Johnson says that he’s enjoying what he describes as ‘an exciting challenge’. He said:
“It’s not the perfect working scenario as a coach, it’s clearly far from perfect. But, testing a coach’s resolve is a good thing. It’s human nature for a coach to get comfortable around day-to-day issues, so when you are in a situation like we are at the moment, it takes you back to the basics and makes you question how you work. It’s difficult, because every Monday recently, we’re starting off with a different group of players and that means you’re always at base camp, you aren’t climbing the hill. We’re lucky in that we had anticipated being without our international players and had put together a programme to try and cope with that.
“We’d planned for this period, and we’d planned to integrate a lot more players into the group. But, if you have a look at our injury list on top of our international duties, you have to say it’s an unusual period for everybody. It’s a lengthy list and we’d be able to cope a lot better if it hadn’t come at this time when we are already minus 12 players. We had almost 30 players that weren’t available for selection last week, against a leading side in the Guinness Premiership, and it was a game we could have, maybe should have won, so you can’t be despondent about it. It’s an exciting challenge and the guys who are coming in to the team are real prospects who have a bright future ahead of them.
“I can’t fault the attitude of the players who we do have available, they just see this as an opportunity for them, not a challenge, or a problem, and that speaks volumes. A coach can cry as much as he likes, if it’s difficult for a coach, it’s much harder for players, particularly younger ones, who maybe haven’t trained together, to be thrown in and expect to perform, but there’s been no grumbling here. It’s difficult but we’ll go up to Bath, we’ll front up and put on a good show just as we did last week.”
Stressing the positives from the current situation, Johnson said that some of the players currently involved with the squad for these matches will learn from their experiences and will go on to great things:
“When you look at the list of players who are unavailable through injury at the moment, that would be a test of anyone’s resources on its own, without the double blow of international duty that we have right now. We’re all for players being involved in international footy, it’s one of our remits as a region, to supply players for Wales. The good thing about what we are seeing at the moment, is that hopefully, some of the players who are coming to attention during this difficult period will go on and become future Welsh internationals, they will follow in the footsteps of the guys who are away at the moment.
“The experiences they are getting right now will help accelerate their development. Some of them may not have anticipated being involved this autumn, particularly to the extent they are, but the experience certainly isn’t going to be wasted. A year or two down the line, I’m confident that we will look back at this period as an important one for the region, in terms of how these guys will kick on with their career and what they can go on and achieve for the Ospreys, and in many cases, the national set-up.”