With the 2016/17 PRO12 fixture list now confirmed, Head Coach, Steve Tandy, says that everybody at the Ospreys will now have "more of a focus" on the challenges ahead.
Today’s announcement revealed that the Ospreys entertain Italian opposition at the Liberty in Rounds 1 and 3, with games against Zebre and Benetton Treviso sandwiching a difficult away game against champions Connacht. Next up are back to back away games in Ireland, against Leinster and Ulster, before the Blues come to Swansea for the first Welsh derby of the season.
"We’re all excited about the new season now" said Tandy.
"There’s always that buzz before the new season gets underway and when you get a first sight of the fixture list it steps up another level.
"All credit to PRO12, they’ve worked hard to create a fixture list that generates excitement for everybody, that allows clubs and supporters to start building some momentum in terms of scheduling, and I think we’re looking at a big season for the competition."
Having seen his team get off to a poor start last season, winning just one of the first six PRO12 games, Tandy knows that the Ospreys have to fare better in the opening weeks this time around:
"Pre-season can be a long slog for the players but now we know who we are playing, and when, it sharpens the mind and gives everybody more of a focus on what challenges we face.
"It’s good for us to be at home in two of the first three weekends as it gives us an opportunity to hopefully get off to a good start, but smack bang in the middle of those is Connacht away, a fixture which is always a test, even more so now when they are defending champions.
"If we didn’t know it already, last season underlined the importance of getting off to a good start if we want to be competitive come April and May, and take our season beyond Round 22.
"We’ve got a difficult pre-season schedule with some tough games to get us ready for the opening weekend against Zebre. We’ve got to use those matches, use the next seven weeks, to make sure that we are in a good place. We want to make an impression, to build on how we developed as last season progressed, and how we finished the season strongly. We’ve got to use that as a starting point and be consistent from day one, hitting the standards expected of the Ospreys."
As part of the PRO12’s attempts to create a more ‘fan friendly’ schedule this season there are six derby packed ‘Big Weekends’, culminating in a final all-derby round of fixtures at the start of May that will see the Ospreys playing local rivals the Scarlets, It’s an intriguing way of bring the season to an end, and one that gets the thumbs up from Tandy.
"I think it’s a great idea that will ensure that the last weekend of the season is a big one wherever you are in the league" he said.
"For us, the Scarlets games is always a huge one, but with there potentially being much more than just local pride on the line when we go there, it makes this one even more exciting for supporters.
"We’ve got to make sure that we do the hard work over the 21 rounds before that so that we are in control of our own destiny going to Parc y Scarlets and not allow ourselves to get caught up in it but, for supporters, I can see them really buying into the concept of derby games to end the season, ensuring big crowds on the final day right across the league."