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Monday Morning Quarterback View

Riding high on the back of two excellent recent victories, the Ospreys travelled to the capital city for the New Year's Day derby with Cardiff at the Arms Park. Cardiff, themselves, were on a 3-game winning streak and were looking to extend their lead in both the URC and the Welsh Shield. A win for the home side would make it exceedingly difficult for any Welsh region to overhaul them, so in the context of the URC it was a vital game.

The Ospreys got off to a bad start when a bouncing grubber kick through the defensive line was mis-fielded by fullback Walsh and the Cardiff winger, Lane, was able to capitalise by dabbing the ball down for the opening try. The try was converted, and Cardiff led 7-0.

As the weather closed in the Ospreys started to work their way back into the game with a dominant set piece, but the home side continued to look threatening in the wider channels, with L Williams and Adams showing their abilities. Despite some poor passing execution behind the scrum, the physicality and power of the Ospreys came to the fore. It was the Ospreys turn to score after the pack progressed a patient, driving maul and allowed Sam Parry to crash over the line, Owen Williams converted, and the score was now 7-7.

Such was the dominance of the Ospreys scrum it seemed inevitable they would go in at the half with the lead, but rather than concentrate on building territory they overplayed in their own half and conceded a penalty. Cardiff scored a try from a driving maul, which despite pleas for a knock on to be looked at, stood, but the conversion was not successful – 12-7 after 28 minutes. Both teams lost their starting hookers just before half-time.

The second half began with the Ospreys dominating up front and exerting their strength at scrum time to win several penalties, one of which was kicked to the corner instead of taking the potential three points on offer. However, the maul was stopped, and the referee awarded Cardiff a scrum. Under intense pressure, their scrumhalf tried to clear but he was scragged by Jac Morgan and his kick went straight up in the air. The ball was batted down into the hands of O Williams, and he dived over for the Ospreys’ second try, but he was unable to add the conversion – 12-12 after 43 minutes.

A desperately bad exit by the home side from the kick-off gave up territory and substitute hooker, Dewi Lake was the next Ospreys’ scorer as he finished off a fine driving maul by the Ospreys’ pack. The ref and TMO consulted on a potential obstruction but there was no case to answer and the try stood. O Williams added a superb touchline conversion and the Ospreys now led 12-19 after 54 minutes.

Ethan Roots was having a fine game at No8 for the Ospreys. However, he blotted his copybook when he put in a second huge hit on L Williams but contrived to lift the Cardiff player’s legs beyond the horizontal. This resulted in a yellow card for Roots and a penalty for Cardiff who went for the corner, but the Ospreys’ defence held firm.

Cardiff eventually found a way through the resolute Ospreys’ defence. Within two minutes of the card a loss of concentration saw the Ospreys’ scrum pushed off its own ball, and Evans quickly exposed the narrowness of the defence with a well-placed cross-field kick. Adams took the ball in space and without breaking stride was able to race away from the cover defence for the try which was also converted to level the scores at 19-19 with just 12 minutes left on the clock.

All the momentum seemed with the home side, but the visitors seized it back and when Myhill was yellow carded for the accumulation of penalties, the Ospreys took control of territory with both teams down to 14 men.

The Ospreys then were awarded another scrum penalty and captain Tipuric called for a shot at goal. Up stepped O Williams and he split the posts with another fine kick to push the Ospreys into a three-point lead at 19-22 with three minutes left to play.

Cardiff threw themselves at the Ospreys, but the defence stood firm and even won a penalty with less than a minute left. This should have been the end of the game with a simple kick to touch, retain possession from the lineout and then kick the ball out of play. However, the kick to touch missed by several metres which allowed Cardiff to unleash one final attack. The ball-carrier was eventually tackled, and the ball went into touch, but the referee had seen an infringement and after consulting with the TMO awarded Cardiff a penalty. With time up, Cardiff had little choice but to go for the three points and the draw. It was a difficult kick that was right on the range of the kicker and although the kick was on target it fell short and went under the crossbar. Tipuric grounded the ball, and the final whistle blew.

In poor conditions and an away face in front of a hostile crowd, the Ospreys had prevailed once again in the Festive derbies. Nine points from a possible ten was an excellent return for the Ospreys and they moved up to twelfth in the URC table, just five points from the playoff spots.

It was, in overall terms, a powerful away performance against a team in the middle of a winning run. Individual mistakes continue, but the intensity, line speed and structure of the defence continues to look impressive. The attack is not at the same level. The team continues its obvious adjustment from the wide lateral finesse approach we saw in the first block of games, to a more direct target setting and narrower style, which is limiting the ability of opponents to turn us over. The passing skills are still not what one would expect from a professional outfit, but the hard-nosed identity looks to be coming back in spades, with a set of forwards who can compete with the better teams and overpower the weaker ones. Owen Williams has really tightened things up and given direction. Jack Walsh came back from a poor and shaky start to show he has real potential in the 15 jersey, in terms of his distribution, footwork, kicking, and most important of all, a degree of the aerial ability that is essential.

Next up is a visit of Irish powerhouses Leinster to the stadium next Friday, and it will be interesting to see what type of side they send over, and with another short turnaround how Booth will freshen up his team. Hopefully, George North and/or Owen Watkin will be available to increase the physicality that can be brought to bear in the outside channels.

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