Leicester Tigers v Ospreys: No Real Madrid, perhaps, but Ospreys mean business
THE record is no longer stuck. A new disc is on the turntable and it is proving pleasing to the ears of all at the Ospreys.
How many times did we hear the charge against the region in bygone years that they failed to equal the sum of their parts?
It was said so often it was like a broken record.
Things reached a low when they went to San Sebastian in 2010 and found El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, calling them the Real Madrid of rugby — packed with big names but unable to function as a side.
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But the evidence from last week’s effort against Treviso was clear for all to see.
All four Ospreys tries were team efforts, involving patient build-ups and backs and forwards linking in harmony, rather than a blinding flash of individual brilliance that was so often the norm in days gone by.
Even Hanno Dirksen’s second score, after a deft kick over the defence by Kahn Fotuali’i, came after the region had shelled the Italian defence with five minutes or so of sustained pressure. And Eli Walker’s spectacular effort had earlier seen Ryan Bevington and Richard Fussell putting in the spadework.
There was a moment after Walker’s try that summed up where the Ospreys are at just now.
No fewer than ten players, subs included, rushed to congratulate the 20-year-old wing.
The former England cricket captain Ray Illingworth once said of Ian Botham: “His idea of team spirit was to squirt a water pistol at someone and then go and get p****d.”
But last week there was a genuine togetherness about the Ospreys.
As Nirvana didn’t quite say, it smelled like team spirit.
Skipper Alun Wyn Jones said: “There’s a lot of young boys coming through, and while they may not have much experience, when someone does something good and score a try people want to be there, patting him on the back.
“That was the case after Eli’s try last week with the way he finished it.
“We’re a team who are pleased to see these boys getting tries, not only for their development but for the benefit of the team as well.
“It’s a case of everybody supporting each other and getting there.”
Such camaraderie will hardly do the Ospreys harm when they venture into the Tigers’ lair tomorrow afternoon.
For the Heineken Cup clash with Leicester is going to see the hosts desperate to claim not just a win but a maximum-points haul after picking up nothing other than a comprehensive defeat from their date in Toulouse last Sunday.
It promises to be an intriguing clash.
Three years ago, the Ospreys raced into a 26-8 lead at Welford Road before finding themselves almost shoved back down the M5 as far as Worcester thanks to the power scrummaging of Marcos Ayerza and Julian White.
Significantly, Adam Jones wasn’t playing that day.
White is also no longer around.
But Leicester still pride themselves on their set-piece and will no doubt do all they can to pressure the Ospreys in that area tomorrow.
Muscle is what they are about.
They pile on the forward pressure, with the heavy artillery softening up the opposition defence with relentless charges.
The challenge for anyone facing them is to stand firm. With an all-international pack, the Ospreys shouldn’t be found wanting in that respect.
Last week, Leicester found they had nowhere to go after failing to push Toulouse around. “They came up against a bigger lorry,” said Scott Quinnell on Sky. “Leicester sent on Martin Castrogiovanni for Dan Cole and Ayerza for Mulipola, but Toulouse sent on bigger men.
“In the Premiership they are bullies. Against Toulouse they were bullied themselves.”
The issue is whether the Ospreys pack can summon a Herculean performance to give Kahn Fotuali’i and Dan Biggar a platform to work off.
But it isn’t about words. “Talking means nothing to what we achieve or don’t achieve on the pitch,” said Alun Wyn Jones.
“At the moment we are being a lot more honest, with a lot less bulls**t flying about, not only among ourselves but in our dealings with the media, too.
“There isn’t so much of it coming from us.”
No doubt taking into account the advantage playing at home gives the Tigers, bookmakers make Leicester 1/3 on favourites to prevail, with the Ospreys 3/1 against.
Harlequins have stormed the old ground already this season, so it isn’t impregnable.
But for the Ospreys to come out on top they are going to need their biggest performance of the season to date.
Above all, they must hold their nerve in a ground that is certain to pulsate with atmosphere.
When you look into the collective eye of the Tigers, you have to avoid blinking first.