IT’S A SIX NATIONS SELL-OUT DESPITE RECORD PRICES
PLUS: ENGLISH CLUBS IN SHOCK BID TO JOIN PRO14 – SPORT
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-
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.