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Monday Morning Quarterback View

A tough day at the office in Belfast for the Ospreys started as badly as it could, with late withdrawals adding to the high number of experienced players unavailable. The exit from the opening kick-off was badly thought out and badly executed, and right from the off the visitors were under serious pressure. In the blink of an eye were two scores down within ten minutes. The next ten minutes were probably the only part of the match where it looked like a competitive game, as the Ospreys started to find their feet and some excellent physical play saw the forwards muscle over to halve the deficit. Unfortunately, as the half wore on Ulster started to win all the collisions, and by half time had secured the four try bonus point and went in at half time 28-10 up.

Whilst a victory was out of the question after the interval there was hope that with the wind at their backs and Ulster benching some starters, we might see something from the Ospreys attack. However, the half started badly as Ulster quickly scored a fifth try, and for the rest of the half the visitors could establish no territory from either the kicking game or carrying game and resorted to trying to find the edge from behind the gain line with little success or accuracy. The home side picked off these errors and coasted to a 47-10 lead, before the Ospreys finally got territory, and again muscled their way over for a consolation to end the game at 47-17.

It was a sobering night. As expected, the physical battle was won easily by Ulster, and the Ospreys accuracy and kicking game was of a low standard. It is clear the Ospreys are trying to evolve from last season and appear to be over correcting by playing far too much behind the gain line. The lack of a serious physical presence or kicking game at 12 is limiting options for the attack and putting an extremely high premium on accuracy and skillset, which is falling a long way short of where it needs to be.

it is noticeable how physically small our three quarters are. Only Watkin looked physically at the same level as the Ulster team. We are badly missing the big physical presence that Cuthbert and North give the three-quarter line, and the squad is desperately short of like-for like replacements when they are not available. The season could be very dependent on Joe Hawkins quickly developing into the physical distributing and kicking twelve that our attack desperately needs to give it some balance and threat. It was, on times, taking three Ospreys to bring down one Ulster player, something we rarely see when Lydiate is there to marshal the defence, and that is bound to break any defensive system. The referee allowed virtually no jackalling and that inevitably took away something the Ospreys do well

The coaches need to rediscover some of the attritional gain line play off the scrum half that we relied on last season and mould it with the wider game we are seeing this season. The exit issues surely cannot be allowed to continue. If there was a positive it came from the line out which was well called and organised, but the performance brought home the fact that the squad will need to find value in the overseas market if it is to progress and grow and adequately cover the absence of its leading players in terms of being competitive on the road.

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