Toby Booth . . . Pumped And Primed As Welsh Rugby’s Only Success Story

Ospreys head coach Toby Booth. Pic: Getty Images.

Toby Booth . . . Pumped And Primed As Welsh Rugby’s Only Success Story

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By Graham Thomas

When Toby Booth was once asked if he felt pressure as a regional rugby coach in Wales, he responded: “Pressure? Pressure’s for tyres!

What I have is a fantastic opportunity.”

These days Booth is fully pumped and primed as the biggest – some might say the only – success story in the Welsh game.

While Wales’ senior men’s and women’s teams cannot win a single game, his Ospreys side pulled off the result of the season so far in Cape Town last weekend when they beat the Stormers, 27-21 to boost their chances of making the play-offs in the United Rugby Championship.

Away wins for the Welsh regions in the URC – other than at each other’s homes – are generally as rare as hen’s teeth. Victories on South African soil are even less common, like hen’s teeth under a blue moon, when the pigs are flying overhead.

There had been just one other before the Ospreys, an unlikely 35-0 victory for Cardiff under Dai Young two years ago when they visited a Sharks team who were without all their Springboks.

This weekend, the Ospreys are still in South Africa and Booth will try and become the first Welsh regional coach to make it two wins against the locals by beating the Bulls in Pretoria.

Despite last weekend’s victory, DragonBet make the Ospreys big outsiders at 12/1 to beat the Bulls.

Without the Ospreys flying the flag for Wales in seventh spot, the URC table would make very sorry reading from a Welsh perspective. The other three teams occupy places in the bottom five.

Booth, a one-time electrician from Folkestone, was not everyone’s idea of a transformational leader when he rocked up in Swansea four years ago.

That verdict went for some of the Ospreys’ senior players, too, who felt the former London Irish head coach, and assistant at Bath, was not quite the innovative fresh face they were looking for.

It took Booth a little while to make his mark. Mid-table finishes in the league were counter-balanced by notable failure in European competition.

But it appears that since some of the bigger personalities have moved on, he has enjoyed more elbow room.

Without the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Rhys Webb, Gareth Anscombe, Dan Lydiate and Tomas Francis, it is easier for any coach to be the singular voice in the dressing room.

Those players who are now underpinning the team’s impressive performances this season are the Ospreys’ new breed – players who owe their opportunities to Booth.

Harri Deaves, Dan Edwards, Morgan Morris, James Ratti, Morgan Morse, Rhys Davies and Keelan Giles have all either been promoted or rejuvenated by the Englishman.

It’s his team, stamped through with his values and personality, rather than any player or coach who has gone before.

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

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

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

Give and take, then, but what is clear is that something was not quite flowing as it should have been when many of those more experienced players were in the team.

The other notable thing about Booth’s newbies is that unlike the old breed, they don’t appear – yet – to be Warren Gatland’s cup of tea.

Of the 23-man squad that ended the Six Nations with a wooden spoon after losing to Italy, only three players came from the Ospreys – George North (soon off to try and get fit and play in France), Gareth Thomas and Adam Beard.

Unloved? Maybe. But only in Cardiff, rather than in Swansea, where the Ospreys’ resurgence is gathering momentum in terms of rekindled fan interest.

They may have crashed out in the European Challenge Cup after losing at Gloucester, but if the Ospreys can make the URC play-offs they will be the first Welsh team to get there since the Scarlets in 2018.

They are currently seventh – inside the top eight qualifiers – but only a single point above the four teams beneath them.

After facing the Bulls on Saturday, they have a daunting trip to Leinster, followed by a home derby against the Dragons, and a final clash against Cardiff in Judgement Day on June 1.

The general judgement on Booth has gone from unconvinced to something far more positive.

If he can guide his team deep into the play-offs, then his reputation will climb even higher.

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