Posts Tagged ‘ Ospreys ’

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.

Welsh Regions Warm Up

What a difference a few weeks makes, or does it? Going into this year’s Heineken Cup, all the talk surrounding the Welsh regions was one of pre-emptive disappointment, a funeral parade held in advance of the inevitable crashing and burning of the so called professional elite of the Welsh rugby community. Well, two rounds in and the Welsh regions, over two competitions stand undefeated. Unlike in previous seasons, this is not a case of remaining undefeated by virtue of only having defeated fellow Celtic League cohorts or Italian regions, no, this time the Welsh regions stand undefeated over the elite of Europe, English and French clubs no less!

Now, while it is far too soon to start hailing this as anything more than a couple of very good weekends for Welsh professional rugby, it can at the very least be seen as something very promising. This is not just Welsh teams putting in backs to wall defences at home to secure their victories either, this is Welsh teams going into the backyards of England and France’s best, and winning with conviction. There is even a growing sense of frustration that some Welsh teams are not offering enough in their victories. The Cardiff Blues for instance were pointed by the BBC punditry as disappointing in their victory over London Irish. Regardless of the man advantage, this was the Blues beating London Irish, a Welsh team beating an English team, in Europe, and we are disappointed in them. Not so very long ago we would, as collective followers of Welsh rugby, have sat back in stoic acceptance, that a defeat in Europe to the English or French was just an accepted norm, to be frustrated by yes, but not so much to take disappointment from. Now we win, and we are disappointed, maybe the Gatland/New Zealand mentality is asking something of the fans as well as of the players these days.

Of course, no Welsh team is going to win either European Cups on the back of these performances alone, but for the first time in many years, we conclude the first round of European fixtures with all Welsh teams still competing in their groups, and in most cases, running the show so far. Is this a knock on effect from the Welsh teams’ relative success at RWC2011? Is this perhaps an indication that in terms of development, the regional system is actually producing some positive results? After all, look over the Scarlets line-up that looked so strong against a Northampton team lacking in cohesion, it was young, it was Welsh, and much of it was home grown. Again, it’s not a team that has won anything yet, but the signs are certainly promising. Whatever the reason, it is a heady position to be in, to have four competitive Welsh teams in Europe’s elite rugby competitions.

We will all wait with baited breath to see how these performances develop, as ones of consistent success or flash in the pan victories that will ultimately be forgotten. Yet, the displays produced by talented Welsh teams so far should bring smiles to the collective fan base. More so because these are performances being delivered by teams containing very few of the men who starred in red in New Zealand. Wales has an excellent first international XV, but game by game, the regions seem to be showing that there is an increasingly talented pool of players knocking on the door, and that, more than initial success in rounds 1 and 2 of the Heineken, should be a reason to smile at this point in the season.

 

After this was first drafted the Ospreys managed to embarrass themselves into a draw in Italy, however, even that result should bring some cheer, as promising young outside half Matthew Morgan saved the blushes of the outift…though that might be clutching at straws on that particular game…

Early Osprey Promise.

Well, this was never intended as an up to the minute sports blog, but given that BBC Wales are showing the first Welsh fixture of the new rugby season, it seems as appropriate to write about the Ospreys – Leinster match as much as anything else. First things first though, we are no longer dealing with a Magners League, but a RaboDirect league, whatever a RaboDirect is? Not sure that you can drink it, or were it to be a drink, that you would want to consume it with a name like that anyway – some toxic energy drink perhaps? Then again, Magners tastes dreadful anyway, so in terms of sponsors it’s no real difference, apart from sounding a little sillier.

Anyway, enough about sponsors, and more about rugby, and all in all, the Ospreys will be fairly satisfied with their performance this evening. All the clubs in this competition, not just the Welsh ones, will be suffering in terms of quality, with so many starters away for the world cup, but the Ospreys look amongst those best equipped to deal with the player losses. This is due to a combination of both a positive home grown youth development policy that seems to have been developed, but also thanks to the large number of Wales rejects who have been left behind in Osprelia. Gough, (J) Thomas, Mefin Davies and company are certainly no spring chickens, even the likes of Ian Evans are not overly sprightly, and so the Ospreys have plenty of international experience left in their ranks.

That being said, in the first half, it was the new generation of Ospreys who led the way. Rhys Webb, Ashley Beck, Tupiric and company, all offered a sense of hunger and urgency which has been very noticeably absent in recent years. While the second half of this game was frankly dreadful, the first half saw a sense of intent and enjoyment from the Ospreys, probably not seen for about three seasons. Leinster were far from good, and that must be acknowledged, the strength in depth that this club used to have does not seem to be on display anymore, especially in a directionless backline, one too many in New Zealand seems to be the case here. Yet, the Ospreys in the first half were very good, and could they manage that for 80 minutes, they could well be the team to beat during the world cup months.

However, without wanting to be overly critical, certain players still seem to be shadows of who they would like to be, notably Dan Biggar. Left behind by most other regional outside halves, Biggar continues to do well going forward, but much of his defence continues to look poor and unpredictable. Developing the ball/arm ripping tackle so loved by Hook these days, Biggar ended up letting more people through, than dislodging any balls. Playing like this, without the complete game he so longs to produce, he will remains down the pecking order, and short of any further international caps. Jonathan Thomas remains an awkward player to watch as well. Certainly not an international second row, certainly not an international No8, the only two positions he appears to be playing these days, and with far too many players ahead of him at 6, it’s difficult to see how he will come back into a regular Wales starting role as well.

That being said, there is a very long season ahead of us, and many things will change over the coming months. Certainly though, and despite failing to secure their bonus point, the Ospreys will leave the game with a sense of confidence and a degree of satisfaction following their first 40 minutes. Continue to produce what was on display in the first half of rugby, and you would imagine the Ospreys will be very well placed by the time their Welsh squad members come home.