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Western Mail - - FRONT PAGE - ROB LLOYD Rugby cor­re­spon­dent

THE mood of the sta­dium was summed up by the an­guished cry of one spec­ta­tor mid­way through the sec­ond half of the Ospreys’ 20-18 de­feat to Worces­ter: “Stop kick­ing the ball”.

Un­for­tu­nately, his ap­peal fell on deaf ears and the sec­ond half (aside from the last-gasp drama) plunged into one of the most for­get­table 40 min­utes seen at the Lib­erty in re­cent mem­ory.

Lead­ing 15-7 at half-time and in ap­par­ent con­trol, the Ospreys came out after the break with a clear game­plan to peg Worces­ter back in their own ter­ri­tory.

But what re­sulted was a neck­numb­ing 40 min­utes of kick ten­nis.

Ul­ti­mately, it wasn’t that which cost the Ospreys a win that would have pro­pelled them to­wards the Chal­lenge Cup knock­out stages.

That was down to a rash penalty in the clos­ing ex­changes which al­lowed the War­riors to set up a Ryan Mills drop-goal with seven sec­onds re­main­ing on the clock.

But when your own sup­port­ers are boo­ing kicks down­field, you know it’s not been a good day.

In his post-match press con­fer­ence, head coach Allen Clarke in­evitably faced the ques­tions about the Ospreys’ sec­ond-half phi­los­o­phy, one which saw the likes of Dan Evans, Luke Price and Aled Davies hoof the ball into Worces­ter’s half with mo­not­o­nous reg­u­lar­ity.

Against a well-drilled, ag­gres­sive de­fen­sive line which the home car­ri­ers strug­gled to pen­e­trate, Clarke in­sisted it wasn’t the game-plan that was the is­sue, but the ex­e­cu­tion.

“If you look at the kick­ing bat­tle over­all, we prob­a­bly came out on top; there was a lot of kick­ing when Ge­orge (North) was off (for a yel­low card), then we go one point ahead and maybe we tight­ened up,” he said.

“The ma­jor­ity of the time it was the right thing to do, par­tic­u­larly when you are down to 14 men against their kind of de­fen­sive line.

“How­ever, there were other oc­ca­sions when we felt we could have gone. I am re­ally dis­ap­pointed.

“The game was in our con­trol and we let it slip in the sec­ond half and we need to have a good look at our­selves in that re­gard.”

Asked about the frus­tra­tion vented by the sup­port­ers in a crowd of 6,184, Clarke re­sponded: “Dur­ing that pe­riod, the frus­tra­tion, which I un­der­stand, was at a time when we were down to 14 men. They were load­ing the front line, there was space in the back field, we were get­ting good re­turns from that.

“Last week against Cardiff Blues we got a penalty with nearly the last play of the game from a good box kick which starved the op­po­si­tion of a bonus-point de­feat. You have got to look at it in the con­text of the mo­ment and, in­vari­ably, it is about the ex­e­cu­tion.

“We gave a penalty late on when we were in con­trol high up the field and that is ul­ti­mately frus­trat­ing for the whole group.”

Clarke ad­mit­ted this was a missed op­por­tu­nity by his side, words echoed by his skip­per Justin Tipuric af­ter­wards.

Had the Ospreys held on to beat the War­riors, they would have headed to the South of France top of the pool to face a Pau side al­ready elim­i­nated.

Now, with Worces­ter guar­an­teed top spot, their hopes of pro­gress­ing as one of the three best run­ners-up are hang­ing by a very slim thread.

The open­ing half was a tale of in­ter­cep­tions.

The first came from Worces­ter lock Dar­ren Berry which led to scrumhalf Jonny Arr’s 10th-minute open­ing score, fol­lowed by an 80-me­tre spe­cial from Kee­lan Giles when the vis­i­tors looked odds on to dou­ble their ad­van­tage.

When the dan­ger­ous Ge­orge North, one of the Ospreys’ few pos­i­tives, fed Olly Crack­nell for a sec­ond just be­fore the break, the home team looked in com­mand against a Worces­ter side show­ing 13 per­son­nel changes from their epic Premier­ship win over Bath a week ear­lier.

But sens­ing un­easi­ness in the home ranks, the War­riors re­sponded with a fine solo score from cen­tre Ol­lie Lawrence and an­other by wing Dean Ham­mond, which ar­rived shortly after North was yel­low-carded for what was deemed a pro­fes-

sional foul.

Then came the kick­ing bar­rage, fol­lowed by the boos.

At a time when the re­gions are des­per­ately try­ing to win over the hearts and minds of the float­ing rugby fan, this sec­ond-half dis­play would have done the Ospreys no favours.

You have sensed the whole sea­son that the Guin­ness PRO14 was the pri­or­ity, but there is no doubt a ful­ly­loaded Ospreys could have been con­tenders for sil­ver­ware and given their fans a run for their money in this com­pe­ti­tion.

In­stead, Clarke is likely to send a shadow side out to Pau be­fore fo­cus­ing on a test­ing se­ries of league matches against Glas­gow, Ul­ster, Mun­ster and Con­nacht.

When asked if this re­sult was a huge blow to their sea­son, Clarke in­sisted: “In the con­text of this com­pe­ti­tion it is a blow, it is not to our sea­son over­all.”

The Ospreys need to draw a line un­der this Euro­pean calamity quickly.

Ge­orge North is tack­led by Ben Te’o and Dean Ham­mond.

Ospreys cen­tre Scott Wil­liams is tack­led by Worces­ter’s Ted Hill.

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