With the first game of the new PRO12 season now less than a month away, Steve Tandy says that he’s been excited by the progress seen in the squad over the last six weeks.
The league campaign kicks off in Belfast against Ulster on Friday 4th September, before Munster are the visitors at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday 13th October for the first home game of the season, and Tandy can’t wait for the action to commence after a period of hard work on the training paddock. He said:
“It’s been a great six weeks or so in terms of preparation. There are a lot of young faces in the environment and it’s been great to welcome some experienced new players into the group as well.
“The standard of work has been really high. Almost without exception the boys followed their programme to the letter for the off period and came back as we wanted them. That allowed us to kick on from day one and really get some quality work in as a group.”
Having defied last summer’s pre-season predictions to reach the end of year play-offs, where they came agonisingly close to becoming the first team ever to win away from home in the semi-final, Tandy knows that it will be tougher than ever this time around. Nevertheless, he insists that everybody at the Ospreys is up the challenge.
“We’re still a pretty young group” said Tandy.
“We definitely made a few strides last year, and there is another year’s experience under the belt, but we are still far from where we need to be if we want to really challenge. Everybody realises there’s more hard work to come and that is a real motivating factor in what we are doing day to day at the moment.
“It’s fair to say that we went into last season pretty much under the radar in terms of outside expectations but people know what we are capable of now. We pride ourselves on having a positive attitude, getting our heads down and making sure that we give the very best that we can in everything we do.
“People aren’t stupid, our supporters can see what we put into it and really appreciated the effort they saw from everybody who wore the shirt last season, sometimes in very difficult circumstances.”
The team will have just the one warm-up game ahead of Ulster, but what a challenge, against last season’s Aviva Premiership and LV= Cup winners, Saracens, who boast real strength in depth and will provide a stern test of the Ospreys’ credentials
“It’s a pretty strange pre-season this year with the Premiership in England starting later, and we’ve had to weigh up where we are with 16 boys away with their countries” continued Tandy.
“Like I said we have a young group and we have to manage their progress going into the season, it’s about developing as a group and making sure we are ready to go when we visit Ulster on the first weekend of September.
“Saracens have a strong squad regardless of international calls so, as we found out last year, they’ll provide a pretty stern test for us with a week to go. We learnt a hell of a lot about where we were when we played there last year, regardless of the scoreboard, and we generally felt that we could take a hell of a lot from it, defensively and offensively.
“That’s what pre-season games are about. They are a building block in your preparation to make sure you are ready when day one comes around. You can’t take your eye off the Ulster game, that has to be our focus, with everything between now and then all about being ready to go.”
Whoever pulls on the Ospreys jersey over the coming months, Tandy is in no doubt that there will be the same level of expectation on their shoulders as there would be on a team packed with the likes of Biggar, Tipuric and Jones. He said:
“The exciting thing about the challenge that the World Cup throws up is that we are seeing who can come to the fore in training. You look at Gareth and Marc Thomas competing really well, the way young Olly Cracknell is training, going up against Lloyd Evans for that seven shirt, you’ve got three nines going at it toe to toe, with Kristian Phillips back and Dafydd Howells fit after a good tournament with the U20s you’ve got more competition on the wings, Ashley Beck is fit again in the centre and finding that Ben John is going well. It’s great to see and is important for the way that the season will play out.
“I keep underlining that we are a young team, but throw in some of the experienced players who are still around the environment and it’s a good mix that we’ve got.
“Listen, whoever wears the jersey, there will always expectation on them and the players have to be excited about that, not daunted. It goes back to attention to detail, knowing your role, being self-aware and being prepared to challenge your team-mates to make sure they are doing their job. These are core behaviours of an Osprey, non-negotiable.
“You have to be clear about what it means to wear an Osprey shirt and, to be fair, the senior group do a good job of leading that around the environment day-to-day.”
After Ulster, the Ospreys face Munster to the Liberty the following weekend and Tandy believes that the loyal supporters will give the men in black a warm welcome home after more than four months since they last graced the hallowed turf.
“You couldn’t ask for a better first home game really, against one of the strongest teams in the league and a club that we’ve really built a strong rivalry with in recent years. Following on from the Ulster game, it should be a cracking couple of weeks and we’re all looking forward to it.
“There’s a lot of talk about the World Cup, and that’s inevitable, but it’s very much business as usual for the Ospreys, as it will be for our supporters. When you look at the quality there is in this league, the level of players who will still be around at the start of the season and how the competition went to another level last year, there’s plenty to be excited about for everyone.
“What is absolutely vital, is that we hit the ground running. We need a good start, to build the foundation for us to kick on this season. That good start comes from everyone pulling together, on and off the field, be they players preparing during the week, coaches, medics, conditioners or analysts working hard to give the team the tools to do their job, the staff in the office driving the business or the supporters turning up on matchday to get behind the cause. We need everyone doing their bit.
“Yes, the World Cup starts next month, but it’s business for usual as far as we concerned. The Liberty is open and we’ll be giving it everything. We want the supporters to be part of the ride with us from day one.”
Tickets for the first five home PRO12 games, including matches against Munster, Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets, are on sale now at the Liberty Stadium Ticket Office, online at www.ospreysrugby.com/buytickets or via the Ticket Hotline on 0844 815 6665.
Alternatively, you can sign up for a 2015/16 season membership now, with adult prices starting at just £190, via the usual outlets.