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Toby Booth: 'If they believe in it, I’ve got to believe it, so why not?'

By Simon Thomas
Keiran Williams of Ospreys speaks with Toby Booth, Head Coach of Ospreys, at full-time following the team's victory in the EPCR Challenge Cup match between Ospreys and USAP at Swansea.com Stadium on January 12, 2024 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

Ask Ospreys boss Toby Booth whether they can make the BKT URC play-offs and he delivers a succinct, but emphatic reply: “Why not?”.

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Booth’s young team are currently on target to achieve that goal of a top-eight finish.

They are in seventh spot, with eight rounds of league matches to come, starting with Friday’s crucial trip to fifth-placed Edinburgh.

No Welsh team has made the BKT URC play-offs since the Scarlets back in 2018.

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But the Ospreys are firmly in the mix and on a real run of form following five successive wins in all competitions.

“We are not going to get carried away,” said Booth.

“I worry about the mindset, the nuts and bolts and bits and pieces, but what we are saying is ‘Why not? Why not?’

“Instead of going ‘Umm, no’, it’s ‘Yeah, why not?’

“If these youngsters are going to give me energy as an old man, then I have got to back what they believe.

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“If they believe in it, I’ve got to believe it, so why not?”

The Ospreys have won nine of their 14 matches in the BKT URC and the EPCR Challenge Cup so far this season.

It’s a record that’s all the more impressive given their reduced squad numbers and crippling injury list.

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“Everyone knows with the 20-plus injuries how difficult it has been, but we will just keep going, we are not going to use it as an excuse,” said Booth.

“Whoever is on that pitch, it comes with an expectation of standard and effort. We talk about that a lot and these boys are delivering that.”

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The long list of absentees has seen a number of youngsters thrown in at the deep end, but they have been swimming rather than sinking.

That was again evident from the dramatic 19-17 BKT URC victory over Ulster in Swansea last time out.

It was 20-year-old Player of the Match Dan Edwards who landed the nerveless last-gasp drop goal to snatch the spoils, while the fly-half also took a key role in the breakaway try for centre Keiran Williams.

Keiran Williams
Keiran Williams of the Ospreys runs before scoring a try during the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup match between the Ospreys and Cardiff Blues at the Liberty Stadium on April 24, 2021 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

Flanker Harri Deaves, 22, was another rookie to shine brightly, while much-talked about teenager Morgan Morse was a force of nature alongside him in the back row.

Prop Ben Warren, 23, came off the bench to hold his own in the scrum against World Cup winner Steven Kitshoff, while another front row sub Lewis Lloyd, 20, also played his part, nailing the pressure lineout throw which paved the way for Edwards’ winning drop goal.

With lock James Fender, scrum-half Luke Davies and back three duo Max Nagy and Iestyn Hopkins having also demonstrated much youthful promise this season, the future looks bright for the region.

“The beauty of working with young players is they don’t know any different,” said Booth.

“That blind faith and that effort – if they are coached well and developed well – brings around performances like we have seen.

“You are not always going to be perfect, but you move on very quickly because these guys haven’t got the scar tissue.

“What they lack in experience and knowledge, they make up for in different ways.

“As they transition further down the line, they will be smarter, they will be cleverer, they will be more skilled and if they can maintain their hunger and desire they become very special players.

URC Ospreys
Dewi Lake of Ospreys walks out of the tunnel prior to the EPCR Challenge Cup match between Ospreys and USAP at Swansea.com Stadium on January 12, 2024 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

“We have got the first lot through, the likes of Morgan Morris, Dewi Lake and Jac Morgan. It’s then a case of what’s the next lot?

“We develop the people, develop the understanding and the core of the Ospreys squad then grows.

“It’s about having an environment where the young players feel they can step up and they are doing just that.”

Reflecting on the win over Ulster, Booth added: “It wasn’t our cleanest performance by far, but we found a way and the boys should take massive credit. I am really pleased for them.

“It was very similar to the Challenge Cup game against the Lions in Johannesburg. This team doesn’t know when it’s beaten. The character they have shown repeatedly is very impressive.”

There is also light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the injury list.

Seasoned Wales internationals Justin Tipuric and Alex Cuthbert returned against Ulster, while Morgan Morris, Owen Williams and Rhys Davies could be back available for the Edinburgh game.

“Come the end of the Six Nations, we will hopefully have a lot of people to choose from and that will be a refreshing change,” said Booth.

“You never know, we might have some selection dilemmas!”

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Poorfour 5 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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