By David Williams
New Ospreys head coach Toby Booth has been backed to take them to the top of Welsh rugby again and competing for the Pro 14 title.
The commendation has come from the region’s former Wales prop Paul James, who believes Booth is the man to bring the good times back to the Liberty Stadium.
The Ospreys currently lay bottom of Conference A of the Guinness Pro 14 and their two remaining matches, when the re-start happens later this month, will not lead to them being involved in the shake-up for the play-offs.
For the past two seasons they have finished fourth and fifth in the Conference A table and it’s now three years since they made a play-off semi-final and eight years since they last made a final.
That sequence meant the end for Steve Tandy, Allen Clarke, Carl Hogg and Matt Sherratt as head coaches, with Booth – who has coached at London Irish, Bath and Harlequins – brought in after a process overseen by current development director Mike Ruddock.
James made over 200 appearances for the Liberty Stadium outfit in two spells, won 66 Test caps, and also played under Booth’s guidance at Bath.
Booth has added former Clermont Auvergne and La Rochelle fly-half Brock James as his attack coach, while James has remained at the Ospreys as an academy coach.
James said: “The players should feel excited. I worked with Toby at Bath and he’s a class act.
“I’m sure he will get the boys raring to go and on track.
“Toby did a bit of everything at Bath as Neil Hatley was there at the same time. Boothy would do line-outs and team attack. In fairness he can chuck his hand to anything.
“He’s got an all-round range and I think he’ll be a big asset to the Ospreys. He understands the balance you have to have as a player between working hard and enjoying each other’s company.
“He’s good at building relationships. If you build good relationships with players as a coach then you get them on side and they play better for you.
“He’s very good at that, but he also has a no-nonsense side. If you piss him off, he’ll have you in doing extras and working hard on your days off. There is a balance to him.
“They all have the same goal at the Ospreys which is to achieve, so, hopefully, it will all work out.
“Brock was a really experienced player and hopefully he can bring that to the Ospreys because we’ve got a lot of youngsters coming through in the back-line.
“All the experience and help they can get will, hopefully, develop them into much better players.”
James retired from rugby in December 2018 after failing to overcome a serious shoulder injury. Capable of propping both sides of the scrum during his playing career, he is now passing on his expertise to the next generation of Ospreys forwards.
“I’m in with the Ospreys Academy and it’s been a nice stepping stone out of playing into my coaching career. It’s so far, so good.
“I did my level two coaching badge while I was with Bath. That was through the RFU and I’ve now gone on to level three with the WRU. Their new player-to-coach scheme has been really good.
“When I retired I had three months off to relax, but I was a bit like a little dog wandering around lost.
“I felt after a long career I could give something back. Once I was told I’d have to retire I spoke to the Ospreys and they said they wanted to keep me on board.
“The front row is such a specialist position and if you can teach the youngsters good, basic skills early doors it will help them in the future. I’ve gone in at academy level to earn my stripes.”