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Monday Morning Quarterback View

In an ever-competitive URC, teams cannot afford to drop too many home games if they have any hope of finishing in the top eight play-off places. After an encouraging fightback to a draw last time out, there was an air of excitement and anticipation in the stadium for the Ospreys’ first home game of the season.

The first 10 minutes saw several penalties against the home team and an early Lions penalty did little to dampen that air; so, when Keelan Giles scored two fine individual tries both converted by Jack Walsh, the Ospreys really should have taken control of the game at 14-3.

However, a needless penalty for obstruction at the restart gave the Lions the chance to go to the corner and a well-worked maul gave them a converted try to peg the score back to 14-10.

The Ospreys looked to re-assert their control and Rhys Webb, ever the opportunist, scored his 50th Ospreys try. The relatively routine conversion would hit the post, which, at the end of the game would prove a costly miss.

Unfortunately, the Ospreys lacked the control to build on the 19-10 lead and let the Lions back in again and more Lions pressure saw them with another penalty goal just before half time to peg the score back to 19-13.

The Ospreys were a man up inside the opening minutes of the second half when the Lions 6 was sin-binned for a tip on Collins. Instead of making the extra man count the Ospreys shot themselves in the foot by kicking the resultant penalty dead. Worse was to follow when a panicky decision by Morgan Morris was compounded by a further error from his scrum half. The busy man of the match Lions scrumhalf was on hand and darted in for an unlikely try that brought the Lions right back into the game at 19-18. The conversion was missed leaving the Ospreys with a narrow lead.

The introduction of Dewi Lake added some serious potency to the carrying game. The hooker crashed over from short range for a try, that few, other than him could have scored. Walsh could not make the touchline conversion, still leaving a one score game at 24-18. The Ospreys had chances to take the game out beyond one score but a huge penalty from halfway brought the Lions back to 24-21. A further penalty from Walsh restored the six-point advantage before a comedy of errors led to the winning try. A botched lineout led to the Lions winning possession and kicking long. Max Nagy fielded the ball and ran back toward the 10m line and rather than respecting the importance of field position aimlessly launched a short up and under into the middle of the field. Unable to recover the kick, things got worse when the fullback went down with a severe attack of cramp, leaving the defence a man short. The Lions sensed the opportunity and after pulling the Ospreys defence out of position, scored a fine try that was also converted, meaning the Lions now led 27-28.

The Ospreys pushed hard for the winning score, and they were rewarded with a kickable penalty. Last week’s hero confidently stepped up but pushed the ball narrowly wide. Try as they might, the Ospreys could not find a way through the hard-tackling Lions defence and the game ended with a Lions turnover penalty.

The Ospreys were, sadly, the architects of their own downfall as error after error was compounded by further errors and if we are to have any chance of a competitive season, we need to eliminate these errors. It is fair to say that the Lions are the weakest of the SA teams, and the Ospreys certainly did enough on attack and defence to win last night’s game but could not overcome crucial losses of concentration at key times; and as with last week, lost control of a game they were well in control of. There seems to be a fundamental problem with our exit game and our aerial game. We are continually giving the opposition short field by not exiting from kicks into our territory clinically and efficiently. We look weak when the ball is in the air and too many of our kicks out of hand are badly executed and too short for us to control the territorial game. We could be a difficult side to beat if we control territory, but we need to find a way of doing so quickly or we face the prospect of another season of not quite being where we should be.

Four points from the opening two games against sides likely to be in the bottom half of the URC is not the best start we would have hoped for, but there are some positives to build on. Walsh looks like a great find and could push Anscombe for the starting ten berth when both are available for selection. It may be necessary to accommodate both in the match day 23 as goal-kicking cannot continue at the standard of last night. The attack, now coached by Richard Fussell and still in its infancy, is showing significant signs of intent whenever the Ospreys can generate quick ball.

Although it is only Week 3, next week’s home game against the Glasgow Warriors is almost a must-win game and the Warriors will be on a high after thumping Cardiff last night. The Ospreys cannot afford to leave so many points off the scoreboard and give away nineteen points in defence from serious lapses of concentration and hope to win next week. The coaches have to address the problems we are making for ourselves by failing to win the kicking battle and the consequential handing of territorial advantage over so easily. It is hard for an attacking or defensive system to prevail when we cannot command territory.

The makeup of the bench may have to be rethought next week. The 6/2 split gives little coverage for backline injuries and consequently with a substitution having been made at 9, Nagy’s cramping issues were not addressed until it was too late. The forward impact so implicit in a 6/2 split was also left extremely late. It is always a difficult call but the regularity of injuries and HIA’s in the modern game make a 5/3 split the safer option.

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