RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Ospreys beat Cardiff
RaboDirect Pro12: Gareth Llewellyn-Stevens takes a look at three talking points as Ospreys beat Cardiff
Five-star Ospreys soar in Swansea
Just six days after the conclusion of a brutal Six Nations championship, some coaches may have ideas about resting key players, but not so with the Ospreys who had no hesitation in restoring a flurry of Wales internationals as captain Alun Wyn Jones, half-backs Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar, and flanker Justin Tipuric returned to the starting XV, while prop Adam Jones started on the bench. It was a bold statement, not just from Steve Tandy, but from the players who insisted in getting straight back into Pro12 action with six matches remaining in the regular season. Hooker Richard Hibbard may have been sat at home fresh from shoulder surgery on Friday afternoon, but he would have been delighted to have his feet up in front of the television as his team-mates ran riot with a fast, offloading game which even saw the Ospreys forwards getting in on the action in the first half as they set up camp in the Blues’ 22. As is often the case when the Ospreys do well, outside-half Biggar—still the leading points scorer in the Pro12 this season—produced another tremendous display which only adds to his claim for the Wales 10 jersey, while his half-back partner Webb showed no sign of an ankle injury picked up during the Six Nations as he also helped orchestrate waves of attack from hand and boot. Aisea Natoga may get the plaudits for his hat-trick of tries against a beleaguered Blues back three, but fellow wing Jeff Hassler deserves credit for his running on the right and inside channels. Nine through 15, the Ospreys looked dangerous and will fancy their chances next week against play-off rivals Glasgow Warriors who boast one of the meanest defences in the league. With the exception of countless unnecessary penalties conceded, it would have been a flawless performance.
Consistent Blues lose again
The Ospreys were always favourites for a win on home soil in the south Wales derby against a Cardiff Blues side which has failed to win since New Year’s Day, but they were outclassed from the opening minutes and had no answer in attack or defence. If the 15-10 defeat to Italian outfit Zebre last time out was a watershed, tonight’s performance was such a shambolic affair that referee Nigel Owens should have ended it at the break rather than put the Blues through another 40 minutes of torture. It was hard to believe at times that the Blues were playing with 15 men, but they were. Claims that the Blues have been inconsistent this season are baseless. Lucky, at times, is what they have been and that includes their three Heineken Cup wins over Toulon and Glasgow Warriors. Wales winger Alex Cuthbert was as anonymous as he had been during the Six Nations while big ball-carrying number eight Robin Copeland had very few opportunities to get motoring. The Blues sat too deep and were unable to get near the gainline never mind over it and that was without exceptional line speed shown by the Ospreys when they were in defence mode. The summer and yet another personnel overhaul can’t come soon enough, but it will be difficult to attract a marquee name to take over as head coach or director of rugby despite several new players lined up for summer moves. The only positive from tonight’s encounter was the return of centre Cory Allen, but the Blues look to have lost wing Harry Robinson who went off on a stretcher in the last minute which, aside from defeats, summed up the only consistency in the Blues’ season: injuries aplenty.
International flanker hopefuls make their case
With Wales captain and flanker Sam Warburton expected to miss the summer tour to South Africa after shoulder surgery this week, four opensides were keen to make their case in Friday’s derby encounter. Tipuric, who has had to play understudy to Warburton at international level, put in another solid display, ever menacing at the breakdown and produced some good running which led to the first Ospreys try, and he remains a shoo-in to start in the first Test against the Springboks in June, but his Ospreys colleague Sam Lewis also put his hand up to make the squad with another impressive display, albeit on the blindside for the Ospreys. Blues’ youngster Ellis Jenkins captained Wales on their journey to the Junior World Cup final in France last year and while the Blues’ flanker is tipped as a future Wales star and has enjoyed a solid run of games in 2014 after coming through the Blues’ academy, this summer may come too early, but he was a go-to man in the lineout once the Blues got it working and tried to smash his way through the Ospreys defence when given the chance and could feature in the ‘Possibles’ side if Warren Gatland gets his wish to hold a trial match in May ahead of his squad selection. Jenkins’ team-mate Josh Navidi, who made his international debut on Wales’ dreadful tour to Japan last year, could also make the extended squad after coming back from injury, and also provides a solid cover option on the blindside. On the balance of Friday’s match, Lewis has to be first reserve ahead of Jenkins in the race to shadow Tipuric and Dan Lydiate.