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Monday Morning Quarterback View

We wrote last week that it was difficult to see where the next Ospreys’ win would come from and few people gave the team much hope as they travelled to France to face French champions, Montpelier in the Champions Cup.

After a disappointing, undisciplined, and unnecessary close loss last time out against a relatively depleted Leicester Tigers, and a six-day turnaround, the Ospreys made several changes and were without Keelan Giles and AWJ. Also missing were the injured Gareth Anscombe, George North, Dan Lydiate and Dewi Lake. The French champions, meanwhile, were close to full strength and in the past eighteen months had only lost three games at their home. In an interesting nod to the community game, the Ospreys players wore the club socks of their junior rugby side.

Owen Williams kicked off and Rhys Webb set what would be the standard for remaining 80 minutes with a big tackle on the ball receiver; and the Ospreys won a turnover but just as they began to build the phases and the pressure, Montpelier were awarded a penalty for coming in at the side. The kick to touch was missed but Montpelier continued to attack and were rewarded for their efforts with the award of another penalty in front of the posts. A shot at goal was indicated and Carbonel slotted the kick to give Montpelier a 3-0 after 4 minutes.

The Ospreys were grateful to O. Williams’ covering defence after a superb break from Reinach and after two successful charge downs, the Ospreys were fortunate to be awarded a penalty from the lineout. The kick to touch was missed and Montpelier attacked again but the Ospreys’ defence held out. A high tackle gave Montpelier another penalty that was kicked deep into the Ospreys’ 22 for an attacking lineout. The Ospreys were under more pressure and were guilty of being offside. From the resulting penalty, Montpelier took a tap penalty but superb defence and a brilliant counter ruck from Davies and Roots won a penalty for the Ospreys. Defensive turnovers continued as Davies and Tipuric won another by holding up the Montpelier maul. The Ospreys ran the ball out of defence, won a penalty for the Montpelier player not rolling away at the tackle and O. Williams put the kick right into the corner for a 5m lineout where the Ospreys won another penalty for playing the man in the air. A great take under pressure from Beard set up a driving maul and Parry came close to scoring, but the referee adjudged the ball to have been held up. He awarded the Ospreys another penalty and showed the Montpelier No4 a yellow card. The Ospreys went to touch again, and this time got the driving maul moving inexorably towards the try line before Parry dropped over the line for the game’s opening try after 20 minutes. O. Williams added the conversion and the Ospreys led 3-7.

After being under the defensive pump for most of the opening quarter of the game, taking the lead was an unexpected development but it came from a reversal in team discipline from the previous week. This time it was the French team that lacked discipline but from the kick-off the Ospreys made a mental error and were back under pressure from the French champions. Fortunately, a knock-on ended the Montpelier attack, and the pressure was relieved.

The Ospreys, who started to gain a stronger foothold in the game as the first half progressed, were able to set up another attack after a Morris turnover and as they went through the phases, they won another penalty that was kicked to touch. From the lineout, the Ospreys carried through the increasingly influential Morris and won another penalty for a lineout infringement which went to the corner and set up a series of driving mauls that the French champions were able to repel by conceding penalties. Finally, after an excellent Davies take and another driving maul, Webb elected for a flat pass to the advancing K. Williams who showed quick feet to wrongfoot the French champions’ defence and crashed over for the second try of the match. O. Williams added the conversion and against all expectations the visitors led 3-14 after 32 minutes.

A silly, clumsy, and completely avoidable challenge from L. Morgan resulted in yellow card for Morgan, and a penalty for the French champions and they were able to kick deep into the Ospreys 22. The period to halftime became pivotal. Great defence against the rolling maul combined with top class turnover work from Morris and solid scrummaging kept Montpelier at bay and the Ospreys went into the break with an eleven-point advantage based on taking opportunities and defending superbly.

The second half started with Morgan still in the sinbin. The Ospreys’ persistent exiting issues resurfaced as they tried to run the ball out of defence but were guilty of sealing off. The French champions were awarded a penalty that gave them the opportunity to build attacks close to the visitors’ line. Eventually a superb try-saving tackle from Adam Beard stopped Mercer from crashing over and the Ospreys won a penalty that allowed them to clear.

After returning to the field, Morgan was fortunate to escape with just a penalty after another poor attempt at a challenge on a Montpelier player in the air. Unless he can come to terms with his problems in the air, he is going to make himself non-selectable, as more opposition coaches identify his issues. The French champions went to the corner but led by a pumped-up Webb, an aggressive and well organised defence continued to frustrate the French team. The Ospreys starting front row had put in an outstanding effort for 50 minutes and there was no respite for the French champions as Smith, Baldwin, and Francis entered the fray.

The introduction of the powerful French international lock, Willemse invigorated the home side, and yet the visitors’ defence remained resolute. Eventually the pressure proved too great, as a well-constructed driving maul marched towards the try-line and the powerful hooker crashed over for the try. Carbonel added the conversion from the touchline and suddenly the lead was cut to just four points with twenty-five minutes to play. It seemed likely that the next 25 minutes would see a continued assault on the Ospreys’ try line. This however did not materialise as the Ospreys started to produce some of their best attacking of the match. After winning a penalty inside the Montpelier 22 and after a couple of phases the ball was passed wide to Morris who brushed off the would-be tackler to score a fine try in the corner, and a touchline conversion from O. Williams resulted in a 10-21 lead after 63 minutes.

Searching for the bonus point, the Ospreys first went to the corner from a penalty but were let down by a poor throw from substitute hooker Baldwin. Great tackling from O. Williams and captain Tipuric kept the Ospreys camped deep in Montpellier territory. Slick passing and what initially appeared a brilliant finish in the corner from Cuthbert looked to have secured the bonus point try in the corner, but his trailing foot had grazed the touchline and the score was chalked off.

The remaining twelve minutes saw the Ospreys comfortably defend their lead, and come close to extending it, as they battered away at the French champions’ line under penalty advantage, but their defence held strong. Another powerful lineout drive looked likely to secure the bonus point try before the referee saw an obstruction and penalised the Ospreys.

The final minutes saw the French champions go in search of a losing bonus point as they set up a driving maul, deep in the visitors 22, but another superb defensive set won the turnover and the scrum, and from that point, solid retention of the ball to the final whistle closed the game out.

No wins in ten previous Champions Cup matches, and only the second win of the season, this was an immense effort from the Ospreys 23. Whoever has been running the defence in Darren Edwards’ absence deserves some accolade, as the team put in one of the great away defensive stands. The set piece was again strong against formidable opponents. The attack looked more potent with powerful, direct, ball carriers at 12 and 14 and more running off 9; rather than the system that was introduced in the summer that put too many square pegs in round holes and depowered the team. Hopefully, the coaches and players have found the right recipe to rescue the season and can soon start shaping the playing and coaching staff to reflect the new 6-year funding agreement that appears imminent.

The Welsh Shield winners were short of wins and low on confidence but a truly remarkable performance from gave them a monumental win against the French champions that will flood the camp with confidence ahead of the upcoming local derby on Boxing Day against the Scarlets.

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