How does a young rugby player know if he’s ticked enough boxes on his professional debut in a match played hundreds of miles from home?
One indicator might be if the crowd on the day screams at the referee to take action against you.
Another might be if the opposition coaches make a point of singling you out for praise after the game.
And so to the AJ Bell Stadium after Sale Sharks had overcome the Ospreys 49-10 in the Heineken Champions Cup last Sunday. Harri Deaves was making his bow for the Welsh region and opposing him from the start was Ben Curry before brother and fellow England international Tom Curry came on in the second half.
That would be the same Tom Curry who Sam Warburton described in match commentary as one of the top two openside flankers in the world, up there with Ardie Savea.
Yet on the day Deaves caught the eye as much as anyone.
It wasn’t just his yellow scrum-cap that helped him do so, either.
The Pontyclun RFC product was constantly involved.
Every Ospreys line-break seemed to see the youngster on the shoulder of the ball-carrier. There were important tackles, good work at the breakdown and a try to crown a remarkable effort.
Toby Booth didn’t need anyone to tell him he had just seen an outstanding debut performance, but the feedback duly came in, all the same.
“When the AJ Bell Stadium and the people behind the bench are calling for him to be (picked up for) offside and for him to get his hands out of breakdowns, it’s the biggest compliment you can get, when the home crowd gets on your back,” Booth said.
“It was pretty ironic considering the breakdown players they have on their side.
“The opposition coaching staff also commented on the fact that Harri’s a good player. If you’re eye-catching to the opposition on your debut that’s got to be a good thing.”
Warming to his theme, Booth continued: “We saw the high-marking of the try and the consistent effort.
“He had a visible performance, carrying on his impact from Wales U20s and the impact we’ve seen in training.
“That’s exciting for the long-term future.”
Deaves came to the fore in the U20 Six Nations with a starting performance against Italy. Unmistakable in his bright yellow headguard, he seemed to be everywhere at once, playing with pace and intensity but also intelligence. He didn’t look to attack every breakdown, instead picking his moments. Noticeably, there was anticipation from the 20-year-old, that sixth sense that all exceptional 7s are blessed with.
His show even saw him carry solidly and take a couple of high catches, following up one with a kick upfield.
It was all a bit starter. “Everyone is talking about him and going: ‘Wow! Who is this player?’” said his Wales U20s head coach at the time, Ioan Cunningham. “He wears a bright yellow head guard and he catches the eye.
“But he deserves it because he throws everything into the game and his stats are through the roof — from tackle completion to rucks and ball carries, contacts, hits.
“He doesn’t leave anything out there. It’s great to watch him play and he has a big future. He’s a very good player. But he’s also keen to learn and get better and that’s the most important thing. He wants to deliver and back up again.”
It was much the same story in the north of England last weekend.
At the Ospreys he’s one of a top-quality stable of opensides that includes Justin Tipuric and Jac Morgan, players he can doubtless learn from.
But how can the Welsh region help ensure he does come through and doesn’t just prove a shooting star who falls to earth all too quickly?
“It’s a very physical position that he plays, so the first thing is to make him robust physically,” said Booth.
“We also have to make sure his display against Sale wasn’t a one-off and he backs up his performance.
“For the likes of Harri and (Ospreys utility back) Joe Hawkins it’s about understanding how you have to prepare physically and mentally from one week to another.
“Preparation is absolutely key for them.
“You have to do things when you don’t feel physically perfect. You have to manage yourself and get yourself in a position to perform optimally.
“That’s the first thing, to focus on what you do before you take the pitch – how you prepare, how you sleep, that sort of stuff.
“That gets put under duress. Then you want to put yourself in a situation where talent decides.
“The role of the team is to perform well and within that those opportunities will come.
“That’s how you see what true talent really is.”
There were plenty who felt they witnessed genuine talent emerging in the shape of the young Ospreys No. 7 at the AJ Bell Stadium.
What’s more he appears as humble as they come.
When he scored his try from short range, there were no big celebrations. Deaves just ran back and along the way took a few pats on the back from his team-mates, a player who could not have been more grounded.
Sometimes he seems too brave for his own good.
But maybe that’s the way it is for a lot of quality opensides.
In this one, the Ospreys appear to have a gem on their hands.
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