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Monday Morning Quarterback View

The Ospreys season concluded on Friday night with a game against the powerful Vodacom Bulls. Once again, as for the previous two home fixtures, the off-field team made a tremendous effort, and the atmosphere and attendance for a poorly scheduled late kick off was very creditable.


On the field, however, the Bulls were a totally different proposition to the Scarlets and Dragons, who had both been easily bullied into submission after taking big early leads. They were certainly one of the best coached sides we have seen at Swansea.Com stadium in some while. They rarely lost shape in defence or attack, dominated the majority of collisions and consequently the breakdown, and were the only side this season to have put our scrum on the backfoot. We were also treated to a virtuoso display in the outside centre channel from veteran Cornel Hendricks, who cut our midfield to ribbons in attack and defensively handled our attacks with ease.


Against such a powerful unit the Ospreys had to rely on opportunism for any tries and thankfully they had this in abundance. Quick penalties from Jac Morgan and Rhys Webb secured our first half try, and an excellent finish by Luke Morgan got the second. By the time, the final three minutes arrived it looked as if we would go pointless, and our chances of securing the Welsh shield appeared to be fading. Quick thinking from Sam Parry, and then Luke Morgan made the defensive read of his life to secure two losing bonus points in the blink of an eye. Those three minutes changed the dynamic for the Scarlets. Instead of only requiring just a losing point against a Stormers side with a record of not scoring many points on the road, they needed to beat them, and despite a valiant effort they came up short, ensuring the Welsh shield and European qualification for the Ospreys at the expense of eighth placed side Glasgow.


The game was hopefully an invaluable learning lesson for the Ospreys' brains trust. Yet again, as with the Scarlets and Dragons games, we gave the opposition short field far too many times. This is a combination of unnecessary penalties by experienced players, who should know better, and very poor exit technique. Our defence has stopped giving up scores from distance, once selection corrected the lack of footspeed in the backfield, but any side will struggle if they give good attacking sides short field too often. This will need to be worked on in the off season, and hopefully the return of Tipuric and some development from Sam Moore and Ethan Roots will enable us to field a faster, more athletic back five on firm surfaces.


There were several positives in defeat. The composure to understand exactly what was needed, even after victory became impossible. We defended one of the best driving lineouts in the game well, and even managed to drive them on a few occasions. Jac Morgan had one of his best games of the season against quality opposition. Gareth Anscombe showed how important a 100% goalkicker is at this level. Harri Morgan gave us a tantalising 10 minutes of quick quality flat passing and showed what may be possible if he can only stay off the treatment table for a length of time.


In two seasons Toby Booth has transformed us from one of the worst sides in Europe that could barely win a game, into a respectable mid table side. He has qualified for Europe twice in two attempts thanks to last minute heroics from two very unlikely suspects, Josh Thomas in Dublin last year, and Luke Morgan in Swansea on Friday night. There is little doubt that injuries to key players like Tipuric and North, and the time it has taken for Anscombe to get back up to speed, has blunted our attacking edge, and we are still a limited attacking side who cannot generate quick ball from the breakdown. We are not in the URC play offs because we could not secure bonus points, not because we could not win sufficient matches. Next year when we visit places like Loftus Versfeld and Durban, we should perhaps not worry about losing by sixty or seventy points providing we score four tries


The full list of leavers has yet to be confirmed, as have any coaching changes, but it looks as if the squad is getting deeper and stronger. With relatively limited funds, Booth has made solid signings and let weak players go. The URC is a tough league, and there is very little between the teams in sixth and eleventh place. We know that due to the contractual situation there will not be many further playing additions for next season, but if we can get Tips back, and try and capture another scrum half and outside back for the squad, the progress in his third season will have a fair chance of continuing.


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