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Monday Morning Quarterback View - Judged on Judgement Day

The Ospreys made the short trip up the M4 to the home of Welsh Rugby, the Principality Stadium, for the Judgement Day clash with Cardiff Rugby. There was a lot to play for on this game with the Welsh Shield and qualification for the HCC up for grabs. The maths were simple – the Ospreys needed to score 4 tries and deny Cardiff a losing BP, whereas Cardiff just needed a point.

The Ospreys, somewhat surprisingly after last week’s debacle against Edinburgh, named the same pack but reshuffled their backline. Cardiff also made changes and named no less than 5 back row players in the pack. Rhys Webb made his 200th appearance for the Ospreys. This would also serve as the last game for several players on both teams. Before the game there seemed to be some sort of disagreement between the respective captain and the referee.

Cardiff kicked off and attacked strongly down their right wing only for a forward pass to stop the attack dead. From the resulting scrum, Ospreys won a penalty and cleared to touch some 40 metres away but were themselves turned over as they looked to build the phase count. Cardiff went to touch and after several hard carries, the ball found its way to their winger and as he looked to score the try, Kieran Williams made a superb try-saving tackle and Ospreys were able to clear again.

As Cardiff began to attack again, a good counter ruck from Ospreys turned the ball over but AWJ was unable to gather in the ball from a pop from Thomas Francis and a scrum was set. The scrum went down with Cardiff appearing to be at fault, but a reset was called for after the referee had a word with both front rows. This time, the ref gave a penalty to Cardiff and their 9 took a quick tap but the Ospreys were able to scramble their defence. Cardiff maintained possession and then won a penalty as Dan Lydiate fell the on wrong side. Cardiff went to touch but the Ospreys were able to smother the ball and force a scrum. After a reset, the ref awarded the Ospreys a penalty and they cleared to touch.

The Ospreys then won another penalty after an infringement at the maul but after the kick to touch, a not straight throw gave a scrum to Cardiff. Again, the Ospreys appeared to have the dominant scrum, but the ref saw otherwise and penalised Francis. Cardiff went to touch and as Cardiff tried to play, Sam Parry was penalised for being off his feet. The advantage came to nothing, so the ref went back for the penalty and Cardiff went to the corner. Their maul was stopped so they tried to go through the phases as the ball went wide again, Rhys Webb was on hand to stop a certain try by forcing a knock-on.

At the scrum, Cardiff looked to have set early, and Webb delayed the put in as he felt that the Cardiff tighthead had also collapsed but again the referee’s decision went against the Ospreys. Cardiff took a tapped penalty and went through several drives, but the Ospreys’ defence stood firm, and Parry won a turnover penalty that the Ospreys cleared to touch but the lineout came to nothing.

Cardiff then won a penalty when George North was penalised for hands on the floor as he looked to jackal the ball and the Cardiff 9 took a quick tap before racing away from the Ospreys defence and kicking the ball ahead into the Ospreys 22. Webb had gotten back and dived on the loose ball. The Cardiff 9 dived straight onto Webb, put his hands on the floor beyond the ball but the referee ignored these infringements and awarded Cardiff a penalty. Despite Nicky Smith’s protestations the penalty still stood, and Cardiff went to touch. Cardiff won yet another penalty when Lydiate came in at the side and Cardiff took another tap. After a couple of phases, the Cardiff openside flanker snuck in for the opening try for Cardiff after 25 minutes. The try was converted, and Cardiff led 7-0.

Cardiff then won a penalty as Rhys Davies came in at the side, although this was the first time the referee had penalised anyone for this, even though Cardiff had done it on several occasions. That came to nothing but then Cardiff won another penalty for an Ospreys player not rolling away. The Cardiff 9 then took three steps forward from the mark, behind the referee’s back and took a quick tap and he left Ospreys’ defenders trailing in his wake before passing inside to the Cardiff 12 who raced under the posts for the game’s second try which was also converted, and Cardiff led 14-0 after 30 minutes. The lack of footspeed in the backrow was proving to be very costly yet again.

The Ospreys tried to speed things up and Webb tried a behind-the-back offload to Adam Beard who dropped the ball and the Cardiff openside was quickest to react. He scooped up the ball and ran 30 metres before kicking ahead. The Cardiff winger was first to the ball, but Luke Morgan got back with Anscombe, and they looked to have held the player and the ball up. The referee arrived eventually and said that he had seen a clear grounding and after the TMO looking at the try, it stood, was converted and Cardiff now led 21-0. That the Ospreys defenders allowed the Cardiff player to ground the ball from a ‘held-up’ situation was extremely poor.

The Ospreys’ strange tactic of sending one up runners into contact was proving to be futile one as Cardiff repeatedly picked off the isolated runner and won penalties and the lack of a ball-fetching dog in the back row was also proving to be decisive.

Cardiff looked to break again but a superb tackle from K Williams stopped a certain line break, but Cardiff maintained possession and went through the phases. The Cardiff flanker crossed the line for what looked to be the bonus point try but the TMO called the final pass forward and the Ospreys were awarded a scrum. As time almost expired in the first half, the Cardiff loosehead went down again but the referee told Webb to play the ball instead of awarding the penalty. What the AR was watching at the scrum was anyone’s guess?

The Ospreys looked to move the ball wide after a strong carry from Morgan Morris. Michael Collins kicked the ball ahead and L Morgan looked to regather, but the referee awarded Cardiff a penalty for Anscombe being in front of the kicker. Replays showed that Anscombe was a yard in front of Collins but was then run onside by Collins, but the referee stuck with the penalty and the Cardiff fullback slotted the 3 points. At half time, Cardiff led 24-0. This was one of the Ospreys’ worst halves of rugby all season and the memories of the wins against French champions, Montpellier, and English champions, Leicester, were quickly fading. Yes, the referee had seemingly been giving all the marginal calls to Cardiff but that took nothing away from the ineptitude of the Ospreys.

The second half started with the Ospreys knowing that they would need to score at least 5 times and prevent Cardiff scoring any more tries if they were to retain the Welsh shield and qualify for the HCC.

Some good interplay from the Ospreys’ front row led to a penalty that Anscombe kicked to the corner. The Ospreys set up a driving maul that sheared the Cardiff defenders and Parry was able to cross for the Ospreys’ first try of the match. Anscombe converted and the score was now 24-7 after 46 minutes. Was there finally a glimmer of hope for the Ospreys?

The referee and ARs missed a Cardiff forward pass that was actually five yards forward but play continued. On 50 minutes the Ospreys changed their entire front row with Gareth Thomas, Dewi Lake and Tom Botha on for Smith, Parry, and Francis.

In the 54th minute, L Morgan received a wide pass that put him in some 20 metres of space but rather than attack said space and look to beat his man on the outside, he stutter stepped and tried to beat his man on the inside and the chance had gone.

A long Cardiff kick was minored by K Williams, and this resulted in a goal line dropout, from which the Cardiff fullback attempted a drop goal that was well wide of the posts.

A nice run by K Williams put the Ospreys on the front foot and they looked to move the ball across the pitch, but Anscombe threw a telegraphed pass to AWJ, and the Cardiff scrumhalf intercepted. He passed to his supporting player, and he raced away for the try. This was Cardiff’s bonus point try that effectively ended the match as a meaningful contest as Cardiff had secured the necessary point that would see them qualify for the HCC. The try was converted, and Cardiff led 31-7 after 59 minutes.

This resulted in the Ospreys clearing their bench as Huw Sutton, Ethan Roots and Ruben Morgan-Williams came on for AWJ, Lydiate and Webb.

To their credit, the Ospreys did not give up and looked to add to their points tally. A chance came when Cardiff were penalised for being off their feet. RMW took a quick tap and eventually G Thomas forced his way over for the Ospreys’ second try. Anscombe converted and after 63 minutes, it was 31-14.

The Ospreys then won successive penalties, the second of which, Collins took quickly. The Cardiff player was not back the required 10 yards when he tackled Collins, and the referee showed him a yellow card and gave the Ospreys a penalty. Anscombe kicked to touch, and a powerful maul was driven over the line and Lake scored a try. The TMO intervened and looked at the try but the try stood, Anscombe converted, and it was 31-21 after 68 minutes.

Could the Ospreys rescue some pride and score twice in the remaining 12 minutes? Alas, they could not add to their score, and it would be Cardiff who would add the final points when their replacement prop dived over from a yard for the fifth Cardiff try. The try was converted, and Cardiff led 38-21. The final whistle blew, and Cardiff had won, won the Welsh Shield, and secured qualification to the HCC and we congratulate them on their efforts.

Judgment Day had come and gone, and the Ospreys had lost for the fourth time in five games. The dire first half performance from the Ospreys was a microcosm of the season in general. Yes, there were several notable high points in the HCC, but the Ospreys would end up with only 5 wins in the URC. Welsh Rugby now enters the era of the smaller squads and lower budgets, and it seems unlikely that any Welsh region will qualify for the knockout stages of the HCC anymore. We await with interest the new on player retention, departures and arrivals.

In terms of progression, the set-piece and potent lineout driving maul have continued to improve as have aspects of the defence. Indeed, as we have seen in the last two weeks, our ineptitude in attack which breaks down and results in turnovers in the wider channels has been responsible for us conceding more tries than when we are actually on defence.

A decision was made in the off-season to change our attacking structure but it was badly thought through, was over ambitious and exposes the lack of foot speed in many of our older players. Consequently, we have been unable to get numbers into the wide channels and that has resulted in far too many turnover tries.

The type of player we currently have requires a far more direct form of attack, better, tighter organised pods, numbers at the breakdown and a need to not overplay in the middle of the field until territory has been established. The pattern of play needs to evolve to build on the strengths we possess and the coaching set up desperately needs the addition of someone who can help us establish far better attacking patterns that what we have seen this season.

Picking the wrong players in key positions has not worked and we have tried to overplay in areas that were not suited to our players. This has resulted in us being behind in the opening twenty minutes and out of the game before half time.

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