Derby defeat provides tough start for Ospreys youngsters
AS introductions to senior rugby go, a bruising encounter at a rowdy and rain-soaked Rodney Parade is an unforgiving one.
The Ospreys were beaten 18-14 by the Dragons in a grisly LV= Cup match in Newport on Saturday, all but officially ending the visitors' hopes of qualifying for the next round.
But as the Ospreys' coaching staff admitted, this is not a competition judged solely on results.
The LV= Cup is widely recognised as a development tournament, and this was reflected by the Ospreys' selection.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
They handed debuts to four players — Jamie Murphy, Dafydd Howells and Daniel Suter from the start and Nicky Smith as a replacement — as they looked to give their fledglings a rugby education a little less refined than the plush surroundings of an academy.
"We've exposed the players not to any old rugby but to something meaningful," said assistant coach Gruff Rees.
"It was a local derby and the usual vociferous crowd.
"They didn't have to just deal with the rugby — which is tough enough when the Dragons impose themselves like they did — but also the environment. It was a really good experience for them."
Results earlier on Saturday meant the Dragons had already been eliminated but, entering this tie on a five-match losing streak, they named the strongest side at their disposal.
Darren Edwards's men looked a team short on confidence, making simple errors and struggling to keep possession for meaningful periods.
But they clawed their way to victory with six penalties from fly-half Steffan Jones, and the fist-pumps and high-fives at the final whistle showed how much the triumph meant for the downtrodden hosts.
The Ospreys, meanwhile, are left with only the slimmest chance of reaching the semi-finals if they thrash Harlequins next Sunday and hope other results go their way.
"The LV= Cup is not something we've had a primary focus about in terms of results but, as coaches and players, we do our damndest to win games," Rees added.
"In some ways, it's probably one of the toughest fixtures we could have had but it's also one of the most pleasing ones in terms of what we got out of it.
"In terms of this competition and the greater good of Ospreys rugby, we're pretty satisfied."
If the Ospreys coaches were hoping to toughen up their youngsters, they had their wish granted by the weather as the rain drove down on Rodney Parade to make flowing rugby distinctly unlikely.
Amid the handling mistakes and mud-caked stoppages in play, Jones gave the Dragons an early 6-0 lead.
Ospreys captain Rhys Webb and his half-back partner Matthew Morgan tried to add some energy and fizz to a match which was in danger of becoming as turgid as the churning pitch.
Two familiar faces among a raft of rookies, Webb and Morgan rose the tempo and looked to keep the ball in hand despite the rain.
Their nous and patience helped the Ospreys draw level shortly before the interval, as the visitors repeatedly drove towards the Dragons line.
Home No. 8 Ieuan Jones was sent to the sin-bin for infringing cynically at a ruck, allowing Morgan to reduce the Ospreys' deficit to 6-3 with a penalty.
Within five minutes, however, their numerical advantage had been wiped out as Morgan Allen was shown a yellow card.
It seemed a hasty decision from referee Llyr ap Geraint Roberts, indicative of an over-zealous display from the official who, despite his name, is an English Rugby Football Union representative from Worksop.
Allen's temporary absence led to Jones's third penalty, but the Ospreys responded with another two from Morgan to make it 9-9 at half-time.
The game continued to be hampered by the referee's whistle and the treacherous conditions in the second half, though the Ospreys did muster one moment of continuity to claim the game's only try.
Wales international Jonathan Thomas, one of the few older pros selected to help the visitors' youngsters along, barged over from close range to give the visitors a 14-12 lead, but Jones made the advantage a short-lived one with two further penalties.
Still the rain came pounding down in Gwent and, after Webb was sin-binned for a high tackle, the Ospreys' chances of winning and progressing in the LV= Cup were left as submerged as the Rodney Parade pitch.