Justin Tipuric of the Ospreys up there with the best, says Chris Gibbes
SCIENTISTS estimate the sun will wipe out life on earth in three billion years. If Connacht set eyes on the Ospreys' Justin Tipuric again before then, it will doubtless be too soon.
The Trebanos tornado went to Galway last weekend with the challenge of answering three outstanding early-season performances from his young rival at the Ospreys, Sam Lewis.
It was Tipuric’s first start of the season and Steve Tandy had said beforehand the two No. 7s in his squad were coming closer and closer together on the strength of Lewis’s form.
The response from the senior man was imperious.
Tipuric put in 17 tackles and didn’t miss one; he came up with five ball carries and the same number of passes; he won a line-out and he achieved turnovers — with many of the 22 times Connacht lost possession down to him.
Considering that it was his first start of the season, it was a remarkable performance.
The Ospreys’ new forwards coach Chris Gibbes was assessing the Lion in a full-game situation for the first time. He could hardly have been more impressed.
“He’s a world-class player,” said the New Zealander.
“He brings a lot of energy and gets through a lot of work, as do a few of the other boys.
“Tips has come back into the group pretty well.”
Gibbes comes from a land where openside flankers are cherished in the way that No. 10s have traditionally been lauded in Wales, with Michael Jones, Ian Kirkpatrick, Graham Mourie, Kel Tremain, Waka Nathan, Josh Kronfeld and the incomparable Richie McCaw among all-time greats of the game.
The conveyor belt continues to roll, with Sam Cane emerging as a possible long-term successor to McCaw.
So how does Tipuric compare to the best of the modern generation of New Zealand flankers? “Seven is a specialist role and it doesn’t matter where you go in the world, they have similar duties. But he’s right up there,” said Gibbes.
None of which will be breaking news for Lewis, who could hardly have played better himself in the campaign’s opening sorties.
The Swansea University student has made significant improvements to his attacking game and is virtually a one-man defensive operation with his relish for tackling. In a position where courage and commitment are compulsory, few have as much of those qualities as the youngster from Mumbles.
The problem is that Tipuric is capable of setting the bar so high.
“Sam is just unfortunate to have one of the best players in the world in his position,” said Dan Biggar at the Ospreys’ base in Llandarcy yesterday.
“Tips is one of the best players I’ve played with or against.
“He has a fantastic all-round game and links superbly between forwards and backs.
“He’s a brilliant player and quiet and down to earth with it. He trains, goes home, comes in the next morning and you never hear anything of him.
“We are fortunate to have two such outstanding sevens.
“You feel for whoever misses out on selection.
“Sam is an excellent player who deserves credit, too, for how well he’s been performing. He’s one for the future, an exceptional talent.”
The Ospreys will hope whoever plays seven against Ulster in Swansea on Friday night is on top of his game for the province are among the most dangerous sides in the Pro12 and always offer a challenge up front.
They had a fine win over Treviso last time out, putting 32 points on the Italians and building on the previous weekend’s success in Connacht.
But the Ospreys have started the season well themselves and feel they are building a competitive squad.
“I’m pleased with the depth we are developing,” said Gibbes.
“At prop Aaron Jarvis has come back into the fold, while at seven Sam took his opportunities early doors and there’s going to be a good little fight there.
“We’re in a good spot, but the key thing is that we keep moving forward.
“There’s great competition, but we have to make sure we are nailing our bits and pieces up front. We were put under real pressure in Connacht and didn’t quite come up to the mark in all areas, so as a forward unit we have a fair bit of work to do this week.”