The Endangered Ospreys.
A little clichéd as titles go, but one not without merit – yes, the demise of the Ospreys over the weekend is the one major talking point to come out of an exciting and dramatic weekend of European Rugby Cup action. There are plenty of positives from a Welsh perspective to take away from the tournament, the Blues return to the knockout stages, the Scarlets punch above their weight to continue in the second tier, while the Dragons produced some of their best displays on the European stage, even though their rewards did not match their endeavour. Yet it is on the Ospreys that attention must fall, after all, given their capitulation in France on Sunday, we won’t be talking about them in Europe for another season anyway, so while the Blues and the Scarlets can look ahead, let us look back on the Ospreys, and ask why?
With the comings and goings in Osprelia over the summer, with Hook, Phillips, Byrne and Mitchell all heading for pastures new, some suggested this would be a testing year for the west Wales outfit…those suggestions smacked of pre-season excuses. Even with the big names gone, the Ospreys could still field a near entire international starting line-up, and for most games, had high calibre internationals sitting on their bench. Yet, and not for the first time, a visit to France brought out only the worse from the team who should be leading the way in Wales. Defeat is one thing, all the Welsh regions have tasted it this year, but the Ospreys did so in a manner that was nothing short of embarrassing.
Talk of change marked the Ospreys pre-season, the Galactico tag was ditched, the fake tan banned in the most bizarre of public announcement (really, the fake tan ban was presented with the same fanfare as if the Ospreys had snatched Dan Carter’s contract), and yet, another European Rugby Cup gone by, and the same disappointments are there to be seen. So what has not changed? Given that the Ospreys seemed so keen to fiddle with the squad, one wonders why on earth they retain such faith in a coaching and managerial line-up that returns so little.
Of course, Scott Johnson is on his way, and will surely be waved off with a cheer, and a kick to the behind by the Ospreys fans who have seen nothing on whatever amount was invested in the Australian journeyman’s expertise. But what of those who remain, of Holley and Humphries? We are told that these are the coaches, the men who have the most direct influence over their team, how much more time are they going to be given to produce the goods? Put simply, the Ospreys seem incapable of holding on to their best products, and the products that they have left are stagnating under a coaching regime that looks tired and out of ideas. The EyeOnWales pages make no secret of their allegiance to the colour of Scarlet, but we all recognise the need for a successful Ospreys team for a successful Wales (2008 Grand Slam anyone). The fresh start at the Ospreys should never have been attempted at a player base, but at a coaching level. Fail to address this problem, and whatever player personal come in for the Ospreys next season, will have little to no effect on the regions ongoing shortcomings at the European level.
It’s time for a change, and the change must come from the top.