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A New Start or More of the Same?

Before the start of the game, Toby Booth was asked what could be expected of a Toby Booth Ospreys team and his reply was that the team would pride themselves on hard-working positive rugby, representing the Region and also promoting youth when they are ready. The first game in 184 days against the Dragons would be a chance to show if the Ospreys have changed.

The stage was set at a glorious looking Liberty Stadium for the Ospreys to show progress and evolution or in fact revolution. The Ospreys kick off and the Dragons retain possession, setting themselves up for a clearing box kick but that is charged down into touch by Adam Beard. This puts the Dragons under immediate pressure. Ospreys then win a penalty after a Dragons player rolls away too slowly and Myler puts the kick into the Dragons’ 22. Unfortunately, the ball is overthrown at the lineout, but Kieran Williams bends to pounce on the loose ball. As he stands up he is caught by a high tackle in front of the posts and Myler slots the simple kick for the opening three points of the game.

The resulting kick off is too long giving Ospreys a scrum put in on the halfway line and the Ospreys pack dominates the Dragons’ scrum to win another penalty that Myler again kicks into the Dragons’ 22. From the lineout, the Ospreys build some pressure through the phases and after some quick ruck ball, Dan Evans puts George North into space, and he crashes over the line for the opening try of the game. Myler slots a difficult touchline conversion and after eight minutes, the Ospreys are well worth their 10-point lead.

The next few minutes are played in between the 22 metre lines as neither team draws a mistake from the other. The Dragons eventually manage to build their phase count before Kieran Williams misses a tackle that forces North to step in and the Dragons centre offloads to their winger. Cracknell misses the crucial tackle, Myler cannot quite complete the ankle tap and Dan Evans just cannot make the tackle, allowing the winger a simple run in for a try which is converted and in the fourteenth minute it is now 10-7.

In the attempt at the ankle tap, Myler catches a knee and is forced to undergo a HIA, meaning the 20-year-old Josh Thomas comes on for his debut far earlier than he or anyone would have expected. His high hanging restart is caught by the Dragons winger but North has run underneath him, causing him to land on his back. At best it is clumsy and at worst it is dangerous, the referee goes with the former and shows North a red card. The Ospreys have to play sixty minutes with 14 men.

Despite being down a man, the Ospreys step up and make several line breaks but cannot finish any of them off. The Dragons try to exploit their extra man but for now the Ospreys defence stands firm. The Dragons are now on top and attack the Ospreys line, but Justin Tipuric makes a great turnover and the Ospreys clear to touch. Another Dragons attack is foiled by another Tipuric turnover and Myler returns from his HIA. However, the Dragons will not be denied and build again from right to left before their prop comes in on a lovely line and races away to score the Dragons’ second try. The conversion is missed leaving the score at 10-12 in favour of the Dragons.

Ospreys force a penalty after the restart and Myler kicks the goal to put the Ospreys 13-10 ahead. Both teams are defending strongly but it is the Ospreys with the next score as Nicky Smith puts Kieran Williams through a gap. He then offloads to the supporting Sam Parry and he goes under the posts for Ospreys’ second try which is also converted and Ospreys now lead 20-12. The Dragons finish the scoring with a penalty to close out the first half 20-15 to the Ospreys.

The first half has shown some promising signs of the style of play under Booth and attack coach Brock James who, although pleased at the score and the amount of clean line breaks, would not be happy at not finishing off those breaks and the missed tackles at crucial times in defence.

The second half is largely a scrappy affair as both teams make changes that disrupt the flow of the game which is also punctuated with the referee’s whistle who blows for several penalties. The Ospreys get close to the Dragons line but Parry is unable to decisively ground the ball. There is a lot of kick tennis as both teams seem to want to not lose the match rather than taking it by the scruff of the neck and winning the game. Myler misses a reasonable chance of three points as does the Dragons outside half. The Dragons do finally breakdown the Ospreys’ resolute defence when their fullback looks t have scored but the TMO checks the try and he rules it out after the ball is knocked on. Credit must go to Josh Thomas, whose last-ditch tackle helped to cause the knock on. Into the final eight minutes now and the tension is mounting in the Liberty Stadium as neither team wants to lose this match. The Ospreys have been under some considerable pressure at times but for the most part, the Ospreys’ defence has been more than enough to keep the Dragons at bay. The Dragons keep on pressurising the Ospreys line but they knock the ball on with the line at their mercy, allowing the Ospreys to clear.

The clock is ticking inexorably towards eighty minutes and the Ospreys win a penalty at what could be the final scrum of the game. Myler kicks the ball into touch midway into the Dragons half. All the Ospreys need to do is retain possession from the lineout and go through a few phases to close out the game. Simple right? No, but this is the Ospreys and they do not do simple. The ball is overthrown, giving the Dragons vital possession with just ninety seconds on. the clock. The Dragons go wide and retain the ball as their substitute flanker spins out of a tackle and into space only to be brought down by a desperate tackle by Luke Morgan. Alun Wyn Jones is over the ball and has his hands on the ball as the referee puts his whistle to his mouth. He does not blow it, however allowing play to continue, giving the Dragons a five on three overlap. A simple draw the man and pass move allows the Dragons winger to score in the corner. The time is up, and the scores are level. Can the Dragons outside half win the game at the death?

His kick narrowly misses the upright and the final whistle goes. 20-20 and neither team will be particularly happy with the result. The Dragons had an extra man for so long but were unable to capitalise on it The Ospreys defended well for most of the time they were down a man, but they did miss crucial tackles at crucial times and a lineout overthrow gave the Dragons that one final chance they needed.

So was that a new start for the Ospreys or was it more of the same errors we have seen all too often in previous games? I think that it was a bit of both, plenty to be positive about but plenty still to work on. Next up for the Ospreys is the Blues who will be smarting after losing badly to the Scarlets.

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