Wales captaincy candidate Adam Beard insists there are no easy games in the United Rugby Championship as he prepares for the latest challenge thrown up by the league.
Beard’s Ospreys have won one, drawn two and lost two in their five matches to date, with a trip to Rodney Parade to take on the Dragons their next assignment this coming Sunday.
The 38-cap second row has a big November ahead of him as he is among the frontrunners to skipper Wales in the absence of the injured Dan Biggar.
He was vice-captain to fly-half Biggar last season and is now among the leading contenders to take the helm along with the hugely experienced trio of Ken Owens, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric.
But first he will be looking to put in a big display in the Welsh derby clash with the Dragons as the Ospreys set their sights on a second win of the season in what he views as a highly competitive URC.
“I’m really enjoying the league. With the South Africans coming in, it’s brought a bit more spice and physicality and a different challenge,” said the 26-year-old.
“You’ve obviously got the South Africans and the Irish, but you can look at the Scottish and Italian sides as well - there are no easy games these days.
“Where maybe a few years back you could say you were guaranteed to go out and win, it’s not like that any more. No chance. There are no easy games and it’s good for rugby and good for the competition and good for promoting it.
“I think the fans are enjoying watching the league, which is good and we want to play a good brand of rugby that people want to watch. But, definitely, as a player and as a squad, we enjoy the challenges that come up in this league.”
Reflecting on the season so far, Beard admitted there had been some frustrations with victories slipping from their grasp.
“It’s been a bit up and down. If we are being totally honest, we should have won three of the first four,” he said.
“We had a tough derby to start the year against the Scarlets. Looking back at that game, we were really dominant in the first half. We put a lot of pressure on them and probably should have got more points.
“We took our foot off the gas in the second half and let them back into the game, so that’s probably one we let slip away. I suppose sometimes in a derby like that away from home you take the draw, take the two points.
“But then we were very disappointed with the second game at home to the Lions. We got the four tries, the bonus point, but then gifted them a couple of easy tries. It’s definitely a game we felt we should have won.
“Then going on to Glasgow, that was the performance we were looking for. They are a top side, so to put in a display like that against them put a good statement down for us.
“It was a little bit disappointing out in Belfast, but there were a lot of changes and a bit of illness in camp, which is obviously not great for preparation and Ulster is a tough place to go.”
Reinforced by the return of the likes of Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, George North, Tomas Francis, Jac Morgan, Dan Lydiate and Stephen Myler, the Ospreys bounced back with a much improved display last weekend as they held reigning champions the Stormers to a 16-16 draw in torrential rain at the Swansea.com Stadium.
“It’s always a tough challenge against any South African team, but we like to back ourselves at home and it’s all about bringing energy and accuracy,” said Beard.
Wales duties will soon take centre stage for the Swansea-born lock, but he is eager to end this regional run on a victorious note down in Newport, with the team he has been with for close on a decade meaning a great deal to him
“Being a local lad, I love being at the Ospreys and love our environment,” he said.
As for his chances of captaining Wales next month, he commented: “First and foremost, I have to be picked. As long as my performances are there on the pitch, I’ll let those do the talking.
“I want to keep working hard with the Ospreys. I don’t think I’m the finished article. I consider the set-piece my point of difference, but I feel I can still make improvements there, while there’s also my ball-carrying, work at the contact area, my tackling - every sort of aspect. I feel can still push on. I’m still hungry, still wanting to learn and still wanting to improve.”
Confirming he enjoys leadership roles, he added: “I still feel I have a bit to learn, but there are no better people to learn from than the ones in the environments I’m in. My second-row partner at the Ospreys, after all, is the most capped player in the game and has captained Wales, Ospreys, the Lions, everyone. And there are other good leaders around the park.
“I still think it’s a work in progress, but whenever I’m given the opportunity to have a leadership role, whether it involves bossing the set-piece or being vice-captain or captain, I’m enjoying the opportunity.”