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Monday Morning Quarterback View - The Italian Job

Monday Morning Quarterback View

With 14 players away with Team Wales, 8 young players with Wales U20s and several key players injured, the Ospreys had a bare 26 players available for the away trip to basement side Zebre who are yet to win this season and were missing their 8 Italian internationals. Nicky Smith captained a youthful looking Ospreys squad sprinkled with a number of wise old heads. Interestingly Scottish coach Gregor Townsend in contrast to Gatland had released a number of players to Glasgow for their URC fixture earlier that afternoon.

On a bright afternoon in Italy, the Ospreys kicked off and, after an exchange of kicks, won a penalty that Jack Walsh kicked to touch inside the Zebre 22. The lineout went to Jack Regan and hooker Elvis Taione moved the ball into midfield where Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler beat the first defender and set up a midfield ruck. The Ospreys quickly flashed the ball back towards where the lineout had been and some slick passing saw Luke Morgan with a 2-on-1 overlap. He drew the last defender and put Harri Deaves in for the opening try. Walsh converted and the Ospreys led 0-7 after just two minutes.

The Ospreys came close to a second try when Huw Sutton intercepted a loose pass, and he kicked the ball into the Zebre 22 but the Zebre winger had the positional sense to get back and fall on the ball and Zebre were able to clear to touch. From the lineout, the Ospreys moved the ball from side to side and eventually Thomas-Wheeler received the ball in space and he cantered in for the Ospreys’ second try after just five minutes. Walsh converted again and the Ospreys now led 0-14. This was some start for the Ospreys and it looked like the third and fourth BP try would not be long in arriving.

However, despite being the URC’s basement team, Zebre have troubled their opponents in many games this season and it would have been all too easy for them to implode but they settled down, knuckled down and began to work through their patterns but a scrum penalty and kick to touch had Zebre back defending their own line. However, the throw was called as not being straight and the scrum was awarded to Zebre, and they cleared their lines.

Zebre were awarded a penalty after a high clear out from Bradley Davies and the ball was kicked to the corner for an attacking lineout. Zebre drew in the Ospreys’ defence and then they went wide, allowing their winger a simple run in for the try. The try was not converted and after 21 minutes, the Ospreys led 5-14.

The Ospreys came close to scoring a third try as Max Nagy went close to the line but the Zebre flanker was quickly over the ball, beating the Ospreys’ clearers, the penalty was awarded to Zebre and the chance had gone.

Zebre then were fortunate with the bounce of the ball and some slick handling from Zebre, allied to some poor defence from the Ospreys allowed Zebre’s big No8 to run in untouched for their second try. The try was successfully converted and after 30 minutes the score was now 12-14.

Another Zebre attack was finished off again by their No 8 after some superb off-loading beat the desperate Ospreys defence. The try was converted and now the score was 19-14 after 35 minutes. This was some recovery from Zebre, and coach Booth would need a big team talk at half time if the Ospreys were to get back in the game.

Zebre kicked off the second half in much the same way they finished the first half and they had a chance to extend their lead but excellent maul defence from the Ospreys won themselves a scrum and then a penalty that allowed the Ospreys to clear.

Unperturbed, Zebre continued to attack and from a scrum in front of the Ospreys posts, another lovely offload from their scrumhalf put the blindside flanker in for the fourth and bonus point try. The conversion was missed but Zebre had increased their lead to 24-14 after 49 minutes. This was now an even bigger test for the Ospreys and on 52 minutes, they turned to the ageless Stephen Myler who came on to replace Walsh.

Myler seemed to immediately settle the Ospreys down and when the Ospreys won a penalty, Myler kicked right to the corner to set up an attacking lineout opportunity. However, the timing was wrong and Zebre were able to clear.

Ospreys won a scrum free kick and then a penalty that Myler again kicked to the corner. The maul was defended but Ospreys maintained possession and after a series of pick-and-drives, Morgan Morris powered over for the Ospreys’ third try. Myler converted and the Ospreys were within 3 points, 24-21 with 15 minutes left to play.

The Ospreys continued to toil away in search of the crucial fourth and BP try and after Morgan won back possession from a Myler up and under, the Ospreys quickly moved the ball wide to Keelan Giles. He beat his man before offloading to the supporting Morris and he fed Ruben Morgan-Williams on the trailing inside line for the Ospreys’ fourth try. Myler was successful with the conversion and the Ospreys now led 24-28 with some 10 minutes left to play.

As time ticked away, Zebre won a succession of penalties, the last of which was kicked to the corner for the attacking lineout, but some poor communication and handling saw them lose the ball into touch and the final whistle blew.

Yet again the Ospreys found a way to win a game that for long periods looked lost. The coaches only had a week to work with this group and, as expected, the performance was patchy. Zebre are a side that score a lot of tries and concede even more. The first 10 minutes was exemplary with the Ospreys targeting their weakness in the wide defensive channels and had several chances to put the game out of reach but failed to capitalise. Worse was to follow as some flimsy tackling saw Zebre score 19 unanswered first half points with their excellent number eight to the fore, scoring two of them.

The Ospreys continued to look all at sea in the early exchanges of the second half and fell further behind. The lack of selection availability meant the bench was not as strong as it has been in recent weeks. Booth could not therefore unload it in its entirety to upgrade the energy, but made the judicious call of bringing Stephen Myler into the game at 50 minutes. The final 20 minute performance of replacement James Fender, recalled from Cornish Pirates was highly encouraging, as he did some fine work in the set piece and around the park It was Myler, however, who provided the missing structure to hold the tide and re-establish the energy and purpose to run in two converted tries and return home with an away five pointer. It is looking more and more likely that Jack Walsh’s best position for the style of play that suits us may be at full back.

There is now a three week break before having to face Munster away. We will have to hope Gatland follows the example of all other national coaches and releases players not in the international match day squad, and that some key injured players will return for the coaches to be able select the quality of 23 that will be able to cope with a top half URC side, that will not be as heavily depleted by international calls.

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