Toby Booth: Belief
James Rees on how the unfancied Ospreys head coach is winning over fans in Swansea.
‘EQ over IQ’
It’s this little sentence in the bio of Toby Booth’s twitter account that sets out just how different he is to any other coach in rugby. Your ‘Emotional Quotient’ is the ability to sense emotion in yourself and in others. An individual with a higher EQ will find it easier to empathise, communicate more effectively and resolve conflict. However, a much deeper dive into Toby Booth reveals just how passionate he is about this concept.
When Toby Booth became head coach at the Ospreys there was a sense of dissatisfaction amongst the general rugby public. If you weren’t a passionate London Irish fan in the late 2000s, you couldn’t be blamed for not knowing who he was. But as press releases and articles began to be released, it become easier to understand who they had really signed. A man who wanted to come to the Ospreys for one reason, home grown talent.
Booth knew that creating a squad that could compete with the top teams in the URC was nearly impossible, he just didn’t have the budget. So, he recruited smartly. Players who were too expensive, surplus to requirement or too old were let go.
He signed Rhys Webb and Stephen Myler; veterans who were brought in to bring consistency and calm to the half back positions. Mat Protheroe, Rhys Davies, Will Hickey and Ethan Roots were not signings, but rather investments into the long term future of the team. In his second transfer window he recruited with the exact same mindset, long term development. Jack Regan and Jac Morgan were added to the fold, both young players with extremely long futures ahead of them. The additions of Alex Cuthbert, Elvis Taione and Tomas Francis were a shock to many. Cuthbert and Francis both in their prime with Taione as a seasoned veteran looking to impress on the number of young hookers in the squad.
Despite all the activity, Booth wasn’t finished yet. Max Nagy and Huw Sutton were both drafted in from the Swansea University RFC set up. The university rugby scene boasts a rich vein of talent, but is only tapped in to by a select few, including Harlequins - another former Booth team.
By having a core group of home-grown talent, test level players and seasoned veterans the Ospreys began to see huge improvements. Perhaps most importantly they achieved Champions Cup qualification. Now Booth - and likely the fans - will tell you that the Ospreys are too early in their development to be competitive in the competition, but the important thing is they achieved it. It set Booth a benchmark for the end of the 2021/22 season, to repeat the feat qualify again for the Champions Cup.
"With 21 people unavailable you need leadership and strategy and Stephen Myler and Rhys Webb helped marshal the team expertly." - Toby Booth
As of writing, the Ospreys sit 9th in the table. The possibility of making that play off place and qualifying for Europe is dwindling, but it isn’t gone. Booth is a shrewd operator - he knows that dips in form can occur - but he also knows that his players can turn this dip in form around. If he needs inspiration, he needs only to look to one match. On the 29th January 2022, Ospreys played Edinburgh at the Swansea.com Stadium. The Ospreys conceded an early yellow card and went in to half time 14-3 down. This was going to be a tough ask for Booth’s men, two tries down to the league leaders Edinburgh. It was a squad in mourning from the immediate retirement of their friend and colleague Ifan Phillips who tragically lost his leg in a motorcycle accident just one month before. Also, a squad decimated by call ups for the impending Six Nations and through injuries. No one will ever know what was exactly said in that changing room, but it worked. Immediately after half time Mat Protheroe went over for a try, just 10 minutes later Sam Parry crossed from a slick lineout move. Suddenly, the Ospreys are in front. The belief and faith that Booth showed in his men was being reciprocated ten-fold on the field. After Venter dotted down for his hattrick underneath the Ospreys posts you would have thought that 7 points were guaranteed. But Luke Morgan and Protheroe charged down said conversion, a near extinct sight in modern rugby. At that moment, it was that the Ospreys would win that game.
At full time Booth gave an interview, whilst close to tears. This was a standard league game in January - not a cup final or championship decider - but he realised just how much this win meant to them and to him. Had any other coach been in charge, it’s hard to believe that the Ospreys would have won that game. That’s something that will be true for the rest of Booth’s time at the Ospreys, no matter how long that may be.