Gregor Townsend warns struggling Ospreys of Scarlets quality
GREGOR Townsend has warned the Ospreys they will be facing an “excellent team” when they come up against the table-topping Scarlets in Llanelli on Friday evening.
The Lions great has had the chance to study the form of the two Welsh regions over the past two weeks, with Glasgow facing the pair in consecutive Pro12 matches over the past fortnight.
The Scarlets won 18-13 at Scotstoun, while Glasgow defeated the Ospreys 28-10 at the Liberty last Friday evening.
The pointers, then, are for a comfortable home win at Parc y Scarlets — former Wales scrum-half Robert Jones has said that people would be expecting 30 or 40 points — and Townsend acknowledged the scale of the challenge facing the Ospreys.
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“The pressure will be off them as they are playing away from home,” he said.
“But the Scarlets are an excellent team.
“They have outstanding backs and if you give them turnover ball they will make the most of it.
“The Ospreys will be focused, so it will be an intriguing game to watch.”
The Ospreys will hardly mind being cast in the role of underdogs.
And it is true that form is often irrelevant to the outcome of derbies.
But they have been playing that poorly that it would be a surprise if a determination to poke a thumb in the eye of their critics proved enough this weekend.
From somewhere they are going to have to find a dominant scrum — and from somewhere they are going to have to restore order to their line-out, with four throws going west against Glasgow.
They are also going to need to polish up their back play, with too many passes going to ground amid a general lack of control and invention.
The contrast with the Scarlets could hardly be more stark.
While the Ospreys have been struggling, their arch rivals have been sparkling, including two bonus-point successes in their three wins so far. It says everything that George North has scored twice as many tries this term as the entire Ospreys team.
His four touchdowns are part of a haul of ten claimed by the back three in the opening three rounds of matches.
There is also a fluency about the team that will delight their supporters. Moves are kept alive with offloads, skill levels are good and opposition defences are being stretched.
If it is too early to predict big things for the Scarlets over the next eight months, it is clear that they have some exceptionally gifted backs who will take some stopping if they are given ball.
Nonetheless, it would be a surprise if they did anything other than try all they know to ease the burden of expectation on their players this week.
After his team’s 24-11 win over Connacht in Galway, Simon Easterby went out of his way to remind those who had forgotten that the Ospreys did win the Pro12 title just four months ago.
And he predicted his side would face a physical onslaught from Steve Tandy’s side.
“They are not champions for nothing — they know how to win games,” said Easterby.
“They are not playing as well as they’d like, but the form book can go out the window in some of these derby matches.
“We have to be fully prepared for what will be a physical onslaught,’’ he added.
“We are playing well, with a lot of confidence, but we also have to do the basics well.”
Much attention this week will be focused on the Ospreys’ casualties, including Adam Jones, Ryan Jones and Jonathan Thomas. Good news on those three would lift the Liberty team.
The sides will be playing for the South Wales Evening Post Challenge Cup, currently in the hands of the Scarlets, who triumphed in the Boxing Day encounter in Llanelli.