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Monday Morning Quarterback View

After three incredible wins on the bounce, the Ospreys welcomed Irish powerhouses, Leinster to Swansea for an intriguing URC clash. The Ospreys were not helped by the late withdrawal of Owen Williams and this necessitated Jack Walsh moving to the starting 10 spot from the bench and Luke Scully coming onto the bench. There was a further re-shuffle a few minutes in when winger Mat Protheroe sustained a serious arm injury that forced him off and another backline re-shuffle was necessary. Cai Evans moved from fullback to the wing, Michael Collins moved to fullback and Joe Hawkins came on in the centre.


The opening ten minutes of the game was all Ospreys as they dominated their Irish counterparts. The first scrum of the game was huge as the Ospreys pack shoved the Leinster pack off their own ball and won a penalty that Cai Evans kicked to touch. A few minutes and several phases later saw the Ospreys awarded a penalty that Evans slotted to open the scoring 3-0 Ospreys after 10 minutes.


A lovely piece of quick thinking from Morgan Morris after a scrum free kick saw him break the Leinster defensive line. He passed to Ruben Morgan-Williams who perfectly executed the 2-on-1 overlap and Keelan Giles raced in for the game’s first try on 14 minutes. Evans converted and the Ospreys led 10-0.


Leinster then had their own purple patch of possession and territory and the Ospreys defence was put under considerable pressure for long periods; but time and time again Leinster were repelled by superb defensive and collision work. Just when it looked like the Ospreys had done enough to weather the storm, they were penalised for offside and Byrne slotted the penalty to make it 10-3 after 20 minutes.


The Ospreys, through Kieran Williams, made a lovely line-break and looked to finish it off from a ruck just 5 metres from the try-line but the referee called the original pass forward and the chance had gone. Another pass was called forward by the referee even though it was flat and Leinster were awarded a scrum. They went wide from it and Giles made a good strip tackle but knocked the ball on and Leinster were awarded another scrum. Somewhat controversially, the Assistant Referee pinged Nicky Smith for hinging even though the Ospreys loosehead was clearly on top and the Leinster tighthead was prone on the grass. The resulting penalty was kicked to the corner and under penalty advantage, Sheehan drove over in the corner for a try. Byrne converted and the score was 10-10 after 38 minutes and at half-time.


The second half started with the Ospreys on the attack and maintaining possession through several phases but another strange call for a forward pass halted their momentum. Leinster were then penalised for being offside and Evans stepped up to slot a 45 metre penalty to make it 13-10 after 43 minutes.


The Ospreys continued to frustrate Leinster for long periods of the second half but also managed possession and territory for themselves and they were rewarded with a penalty that Evans kicked to extend the lead to 16-10 after 55 minutes. By this time Roots had left the pitch with an injury, replaced by Huw Sutton; and both props had been changed with Thomas and Botha replacing Smith and Francis.


It was the respective benches that would ultimately decide the game. The Leinster bench, containing top internationals such as James Ryan and Josh Van der Flier, and that, added to Ross Byrne replacing his less consistent younger brother, started to change the momentum. Yet still the Ospreys held firm. In the end it took a loss of concentration from the newly introduced Scott Baldwin, who stepped in for just a second, which was all a player of the class of Keenan needed to give the visitors the go-ahead score. It was not long before another wide move and clever run by their quality young left wing O'Brien saw the tiring legs of Evans, Walsh, and Collins fail to cope with him, and another converted score meant that at 16-24 it was now a two score game.


A bonus point win now looked inevitable but the Ospreys showed their incredible resilience and powerful scrums led to more penalties, but still surprisingly no yellow cards. Allied to some top class line kicking by debutant Evans, territory was established and a penalty conceded in front of the posts gave Evans the chance to bring the game back to a one score game. There was just enough time to launch one final attack in the Leinster 22 but poor support of an AWJ carry, sending in only one player, who was both too late and too high, allowed Leinster to win a jackal penalty and close the game out in Ospreys’ territory.


The TV-induced late night kick off time affected the size of the crowd, but those there made up for it creating great noise in support of a team that, in recent weeks, has started to find its direction.


A home loss is never welcome, but it must be put in context. The home side showed that, even with considerable squad rotation, they can physically match up with the best. The loose throw about style of the first block has been replaced by hard-nosed carrying. The short weak line kicking has been replaced by longer and deeper kicking that is allowing better control of field position.


The loss of Protheroe so early was frustrating for all including the player. It forced a reshuffle and meant it was not possible to judge whether Evans' high class place and line kicking display would have been complemented by good positional play at the back. There were certainly issues with coverage of deep kicks and the number of times Collins allowed the ball to bounce was concerning.


The team now moves on to a must win return fixture with Montpellier. The rotation in selection has allowed some valuable rest and hopefully the knocks to Roots and Morris will not rule them out of the 23 and George North and Sam Parry will be fit and available for selection, alongside the likes of Cuthbert, Webb, Beard, J Morgan and O Williams. The fine play of Morgan-Williams, who was excellent throughout, may also see him coming off the bench a little earlier in relief.




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