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Monday Morning Quarterback View

The URC took a break as the Ospreys, the only Welsh team in the competition, opened their HCC campaign with the visit of the Leicester Tigers to the stadium on Sunday. Ospreys saw their Welsh players return to the matchday squad and named a virtually full-strength team. Conversely, the Tigers made several changes from their strongest matchday squad but still named a relatively strong team.

The match began as it would turn out for the rest of the 80 minutes when AWJ was needlessly penalised for offside as the ref showed his rather fussy tendencies early but the shot at goal sailed wide. This should have served as a warning for the Ospreys, but they refused to learn and adapt.

The first scrum of the match saw the Tigers win a penalty but the kick to the corner was too long and back it came for another scrum where this time the Ospreys won a penalty. The Ospreys scrum then began to exert real dominance over their English counterparts and won a penalty that Jack Walsh slotted for the opening score, 3-0. From the resulting kick-off, the Ospreys failed to exit (this is a familiar theme this season) and the Tigers won a penalty that Atkinson kicked to make it 3-3 after 14 minutes. The Ospreys made several line breaks but were unable to convert any of them into points and it was the Tigers who scored next with another Atkinson penalty to make it 3-6.

More Tigers pressure saw the Ospreys concede a 5-metre scrum but again the scrum rescued the situation for the Ospreys and Walsh cleared the penalty to touch. As the game wore on towards half time, the Ospreys forced several scrum penalties and the Tigers’ tighthead was shown a yellow card for repeated infringements. This allowed the Ospreys another scrum and after some strong carries by the forwards, Nicky Smith powered over for the game’s opening try, with Walsh converting to make the score at half time 10-6.

Another poor exit from the Ospreys (a regular occurrence this season) put them straight under pressure from the kick-off, a cross-field kick under penalty advantage was not held by Giles, (another familiar example of a game defining individual unforced error) and the Tigers’ winger, Potter, was able to claim the ball and dive over the line for the try. Atkinson converted superbly from the touchline to give the Tigers a 10-13 lead.

Things went from bad to worse when the Ospreys’ surrendered field position through needless unforced errors and penalties and Anthony Watson made them pay with a high-quality mazy run which left Ospreys’ defenders flailing in his wake as he danced over for the try that Atkinson converted to make it 10-20.

A Walsh kick was volleyed towards the Tiger’s line by Joe Hawkins, but Watson beat him to the loose ball and the Ospreys were penalised at the corresponding breakdown much to the bewilderment of Sam Parry and the rest of the Ospreys forwards. However, the Ospreys continued to plug away and Morgan Morris scored a close range try that Walsh converted to make it 17-20 with just five minutes to play.

Yet another poor exit and some loose play by the Ospreys saw them concede a penalty right in front of the posts which Atkinson kicked to make it 17-23. It looked like the Ospreys would end the night with another close loss, but a superb scrum won them a penalty as the clock ticked towards 80 minutes. Owen Williams unfortunately could only find touch twenty yards rather than the required five yards out and the Osprey maul was diffused by some questionable maul defence, which led to the ball not coming out and the final whistle ended the game.

This was an all-around disappointing night from the Ospreys with mindless mistakes leading to a massive penalty count and the consequent surrendering of vast amounts of territory, which was disastrous against a team that relied heavily on territory to build their attacks. The attacking structure appears to be incohesive and we regularly lose shape. Individuals make line breaks and then become isolated. We cannot create any quick phase ball, and the passing and offloading is inaccurate and unsympathetic. There was little energy or desire in the attack until we fell ten points behind and by then it was too late.

The fact is that the Ospreys have only won one in ten games now and things are not getting any easier as they face Montpelier (A), Scarlets (H), Cardiff (A), Leinster (H), Montpelier (H), Tigers (A) and Zebre (A) in a demanding seven week stretch.

Currently, it is difficult to see where the next win will come. The lack of any credible form of attacking system means we can only score consistently from close range and whilst the defence, unlike the attack, is relatively systematically sound; unless the team can cut out the game defining unforced individual mistakes at key points of the game the defence will continue to concede more points than the attack is able to score. The set piece and the defensive system can be built on if concentration and desire are worked hard on, but we cannot hold on to the ball for any length of time to build pressure and territory. The line breaks we make are badly supported and consequently we are regularly turned over. We are a good set piece team, and we need to find a form of attacking structure and sequencing that compliments a set piece team and respects the ball in contact rather than attempting extravagant off loads There is a big task ahead for a threadbare coaching team, but it can be achieved.

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