Ospreys' nerves jangling as Heineken Cup hopes go on the line
VISITORS of a nervous disposition might recently have considered staying away from Northampton because of the antics of the infamous creepy clown, a costumed comedian who struck fear into the population by popping up around the town when least expected.
Children and old folk were said to be especially frightened and vigilantes took to the streets in an attempt to track down the eerie red-nosed figure.
The good news is the chap in question has been unmasked and the scare is over.
But nerves will doubtless still be twanging on the Ospreys' team bus as they head for the east Midlands to take on the town's rugby team in tomorrow's Heineken Cup tie.
Last weekend's defeat by Leinster has left Steve Tandy's team with next to no margin for error. Another setback and there is every likelihood that their Heineken campaign will be over for another season.
Trepidation it is, then, for all connected with the Welsh region.
What they have to do this weekend is recall how to win on the road in this competition.
They have prevailed in just two of their past 18 away games in Europe, the successes coming in Viadana and Treviso.
And even in Italy the former Pro12 champions have found the going tougher in recent times, with a defeat in Treviso last term and a draw at the same venue the campaign before.
It is a poor record, but when asked whether he had faith in his side's ability to defy the odds, start picking up away wins and reach the quarter-finals, Adam Jones erred on the side of positivity. "I think so," he said.
"We obviously ballsed it up last weekend.
"We spoke all week about Heineken Cup rugby being like an international, but at certain times we didn't take the points and keep the scoreboard ticking over. We butchered a try in the first half; it was all a bit frustrating.
"It's been said we are missing someone who can pull something out of a hat, like a Shane (Williams). We haven't got one, but for the past year we have worked hard to be a good, solid team and we are a good, solid team.
"It's hard to harp on about being mature and stopping doing silly things — it's frustrating as a player, especially when you've been around a long time and you see instances in a game where we should be building a score but we do silly, daft things. We might learn one day."
Straight talking from a player who knows what it takes to win at the highest level.
But the Ospreys did lack composure last week, spurning kickable penalties on two occasions and passing up two try opportunities. European rugby is too unforgiving for such wastefulness to go unpunished.
Whether they lacked effort, a suggestion made after the game, is a different matter entirely. Certainly, Jones doesn't buy that idea.
"Sometimes it's a case of trying too hard and getting a bit excited when we shouldn't be too excited," he said.
"It's not for a lack of trying.
"We need to get back to where we've been good for the past couple of years, since Steve came in.
"We need to pull our fingers out."
The scrum will be a key area with Saints appearing vulnerable there even before they lost Alex Corbisiero to injury. And Tandy is adamant the Ospreys, so powerful at the set-piece in recent years but not as dominant so far this term, will rediscover their set-piece mojo.
"We've always had a dominant scrum and that will come back," he said.
"With the new laws, some of it is a lottery with the decisions. Some sides are getting to grips with the changes faster than others, but I thought our scrum was better last week and I'm sure we will make more improvements come Sunday."
Other areas of the region's game need to get better as well, not least their attacking game.
But it isn't beyond them to get a result at Franklin's Gardens.
Northampton will start favourites, with home advantage, but the Ospreys' moment of truth has arrived early in Europe this year and if that doesn't spark them, nothing will.