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Monday Morning Quarterback View - Just not our day!

On a sunny but breezy Sunday afternoon, the Ospreys and around 1000 travelling supporters made the trip up to the StoneX Stadium to face Saracens in the last 16 of the HCC, the Ospreys’ first HCC knock out game in some 13 years. The Ospreys’ preparations were hampered by the injuries to Jac Morgan and Alex Cuthbert and the very late withdrawal of George North, so Keelan Giles was called into the starting XV. Saracens named a strong unchanged team from their previous match.


The game started with the Ospreys’ supporters in fine voice but Saracens were in the ascendancy and won a penalty but the shot at goal was wide. With the Ospreys under considerable pressure inside their 22, the referee awarded several penalties to Saracens but from a couple of tap and goes, the Ospreys defence kept them out. Another penalty against the Ospreys led to a referee’s warning and Saracens took the 3 points, 3-0 after 9 minutes.


The Ospreys then went through several phases after some great offloading and under penalty advantage, Kieran Williams broke through a couple of Saracens’ tackles before passing to the supporting Michael Collins who raced away for the opening try of the game. Owen Williams added the conversion and Ospreys led 3-7 after 11 minutes.


However, straight from the restart, the Ospreys allowed the ball to bounce and gave away another penalty for being offside in front of the ball and Saracens went to the corner. They set up a driving maul and, despite the best efforts of the commentary team, AWJ and Sam Parry were able to hold the ball up and prevent the try, resulting in a goal line dropout.


Another Saracens attack almost resulted in a try but a lovely tackle from Collins saved a certain try, Saracens were able to recycle, and K Williams made a great tackle on the line to stop another try and forced a knock on.


The scrums were messy with Saracens seemingly doing everything they could to prevent the Ospreys scrum from attacking.


Saracens phased and looked to move the ball but a huge hit from Ethan Roots allowed Webb to pinch the ball and he offloaded to the marauding Nicky Smith. He burst through several would be tacklers before popping to Justin Tipuric who raced clear but a superb cover tackle prevented a certain try. However, the Ospreys retained possession and the ball found its way to K Williams who crossed in the corner for the Ospreys’ second try. O Williams converted and after 24 minutes the Ospreys led 3-14.


Collins took a high Saracens kick and made good ground, before Webb replied with a high box kick that was fielded by the Saracens fullback but the quickly arriving Roots and Owen Watkin drove the fullback some 10 metres backwards before a Saracens player went off his feet at the breakdown and the Ospreys were awarded a penalty. O Williams went to the corner and set up a driving maul, but the ball was dropped just as the maul began to advance resulting in a scrum where Saracens won a penalty and cleared to touch.


The referee then awarded a penalty for obstruction and Saracens went to the corner. The Ospreys managed to defend the maul but then Thomas Francis was pinged when a Saracens player ran straight into him as he rolled away from a tackle (Francis was not even looking at play). Saracens took a tap and went for the line but superb defence from Watkin forced a knock on and the Ospreys were awarded a scrum. The referee gave Saracens another penalty at the scrum and Saracens took the easy 3 points.


A break from Saracens saw a fine tackle from K Williams but he got to his feet and jackalled the ball without releasing the player and the referee awarded Saracens a penalty and then saw fit to show Williams a yellow card. This put the Ospreys down to 14 for the next 10 minutes. Saracens went to the corner and set up another maul but again, superb Ospreys defence stopped them and the ref awarded the Ospreys a scrum. After a reset, the Ospreys’ scrum wheeled allowing the Saracens scrum half to win possession in a very contentious way as the ball was still in the scrum and they began to phase. Saracens, under penalty advantage, went wide and a poor first up tackle attempt from Luke Morgan allowed the Saracens winger to drive to the line and the referee awarded a try. The TMO checked and gave the try. Saracens added the conversion and as the half time whistle went the score was now 13-14. The penalty count was 1-10. Dan Lydiate replaced the injured Tipuric.


Saracens came out with a different mindset in the second half and began to run pretty much everything and the Ospreys struggled to contain their big powerful runners, but the Ospreys defence was able to scramble and stop the attacks.


The Ospreys won a penalty just inside the Saracens half and O Williams slotted the kick to add another 3 points to the scoreboard, 13-17 after 46 minutes.


Saracens made a nice break and looked like they would score, but their No8 dropped the ball for the second time and the Ospreys were able to clear.


Then, it was the Ospreys’ turn to attack but an interception stopped the move when a try looked likely. Both teams were guilty of turning the ball over and failing to hold onto possession.


An amazing 45 metre run from Smith resulted in an Ospreys penalty and O Williams slotted the kick to extend the Ospreys’ lead to 13-20 after 52 minutes. The Ospreys changed their entire starting front row as Thomas, Lake and Botha came on and in the backs, Iestyn Hopkins replaced Giles.


Saracens won a penalty when AWJ was adjudged to be offside at a ruck. Saracens went to touch and took the ball into midfield. They came back to the blindside and their fullback put a kick through. A Saracens player was first to the ball, he offloaded to his support and a try was scored. The conversion was added and after 57 minutes, the score was locked at 20-20.


The Ospreys, who looked to be beginning to tire, were under pressure and only a last-ditch tackle from Watkin stopped another promising Saracens attack. In the tackle attempt, Watkin was injured and was forced to leave the field. This necessitated a reshuffle in the Ospreys’ backline with the returning Gareth Anscombe coming on at fullback and Collins moving to 13. Wave after wave of Saracens attack was repelled by a resolute Ospreys’ defence, before a Saracens penalty added 3 points to the scoreboard, 23-20 after 63 minutes.


Another Saracens attack stopped by a great turnover from Morgan Morris relieved the pressure, but several Ospreys’ players were struggling with the effects of cramp. Ospreys went to touch and looked to attack but a poor throw from Lake was picked off and Saracens won back the ball and they sent up a box kick. This was a pivotal moment in the match as the ball was allowed to bounce and Saracens hacked the ball forward and into touch just outside the Ospreys’ 22. Inexplicably and for reasons known only to himself, Webb decided to go for a quick lineout. He threw the ball some 25 metres towards the retreating K Williams who was not even looking at the ball. A Saracens player nipped in front of Williams for a simple try under the posts, the conversion was added and after 69 minutes, Saracens now led 30-20.

From a promising attack just outside the Saracens 22, the Ospreys had well and truly shot themselves in the foot and gave Saracens a silly try that changed the game. Who knows if the Ospreys would have been able to come back from 3 points behind, but 10 points was ultimately too much of a margin to claw back.


As time ticked towards full time, Saracens won another penalty and they went to the corner before they drove over for the final try of the match. The conversion was missed, and the final whistle blew.


The first half performance was a superb effort against the runaway English premiership leaders. It was even more impressive when considering it was achieved against a penalty count of 10-1 and an inexperienced Georgian referee whose expectation was clearly a comfortable home win. The pivotal moments in the first half went against the visitors. The first, of their own making, as a line out drive that would have put us three scores ahead, spilled the ball as it was heading to the try line. The second, a rather dubious officiating call allowing the home scrum half to pick the ball out of the Osprey scrum with the clock in the red and set up the attack for a critical try right on half time. Nicky Smith, Ethan Roots, and captain Justin Tipuric, had given monumental stand out performances and the loss of Tipuric to injury was to prove crucial, as after his departure the line out never really functioned.


The wind was a major factor but unfortunately our second half set piece was not strong enough to take advantage. The officials allowed the home tight head to continually hit down and nullify our scrum, and without captain Tipuric the home side were able to put the line out under pressure. The defensive and turnover work remained excellent but having to bring on the promising Iestyn Hopkins, out of position, meant his positional awareness and turning speed could be exposed down the right flank, and once Saracens were able to pull level it was always going to take a Herculean effort to nick the game. It however seemed incredible that a player of Rhys Webb's experience would make such a terrible mental mistake that would kill off any chance of sneaking a late score to win the tie.


It is hard to be critical of the performance. The tactics were right and the intensity was right up there. This was intense big boys stuff in the premier European competition. A stronger and braver first half refereeing performance could have given us a sniff, but Saracens are relentless and in the final 25 minutes their legs were the stronger. It was then that the absence of the likes of Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric, George North and Alex Cuthbert from that final 25 minutes against such a powerful home outfit was keenly felt. Supporters can feel proud of this European campaign and their own efforts in supporting the team. It is common knowledge that squad size will be heavily reduced in the off season but it is essential the young spine of the team is retained and rebuilt around. We will sadly lose some players we don't want to but other teams are in a similar position and whilst it will be a difficult jigsaw puzzle to put together it is a challenge we have no option other than to take on.


The travelling Ospreys supporters were in fine voice throughout and for large parts of the game out sung the larger Saracens’ crowd.

We wish Saracens well as they move onto the quarter-finals of the HCC where they will face holders La Rochelle next week.

The Ospreys must lick their wounds and begin preparation for their must win visit to Edinburgh in two weeks’ time as they look to retain the Welsh Shield and qualify again for this prestigious competition.



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