Party goes flat for Ospreys
Ospreys 13, Ulster 16.
YOU can load the drinks cabinet with booze, spend hours weeding out undesirables from the guest list and even hire a Michelin-starred chef to look after the catering.
Even then, there's no guarantee with a party.
Saturday night at the Liberty had been billed as the best bash in town, and there were plenty of people there to make an occasion of it. The band was lively, the weather nice and the atmosphere not bad at all.
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All it needed was for the rugby to be of the sparkling variety and everyone would have gone home happy.
But it was as flat as a half-drunk glass of brown ale the morning after the night before.
Neither side was happy with how events had unfolded. Ulster were frustrated that they played for barely 15 minutes, while the Ospreys spilled so much ball it was as if there had been a mass spraying of hands with Teflon in the home dressing room before the game.
To the uninitiated, it might have looked as if the two sides were part of some bizarre cult trying to discredit the Pro12 league. Passes went to ground as a matter of routine, high kicks were fumbled, possession frequently lost in contact.
Predictably, the final play ended with the home side coughing up the ball in a tackle. Anything else would have been out of keeping with the game.
It is still early in the season — no-one has ever won a league in September in these parts — but every point lost at this stage is one that will need to be made up later in the season if the Ospreys are to successfully defend their title.
They are storing up trouble for themselves by starting slowly while others forge ahead.
You wonder how they have become virtually unrecognisable from the side that lifted Pro12 silverware in such dazzling style on that unforgettable late spring afternoon in Dublin.
Everything about them in May was assured.
But they have mislaid the formula that allowed them to build such momentum that not even Leinster, the most vaunted team in Europe, could stop them.
For those with short memories, the success was built on a simple formula involving a big forward game which included a powerful scrum, backed by the deadly boot of Dan Biggar, strong defence and clinical finishing.
But against Ulster the Ospreys were all over the place, forcing passes, running from unpromising positions and lacking accuracy, and all without a rock-solid forward platform. It was as if a virus had infected the region's matchday software.
All isn't lost because, Paul James aside, the forwards who proved a match for the best in the league last term are still on the region's books.
But the Ospreys need Adam Jones and Ryan Jones back on the field sooner rather than later if their early-season downturn isn't to turn into something altogether more serious.
Gruff Rees went out of his way after the game to praise Aaron Jarvis, while saying the Ospreys would improve via a collective effort rather than through Adam Jones "riding to the rescue".
Jarvis did impress in the first half.
He scrummaged soundly, put in five tackles, made a carry and achieved a turnover.
But once Ulster brought on Tom Court, Jarvis needed all his energy to resist the 29-cap Ireland World Cup player's repeated scrum attacks.
That wasn't unexpected, with the former Bath man a work in progress, a player who admitted last week he still had plenty to learn at the highest level.
When Joe Rees came on near the end, the scrum again went down.
Such are the trials and tribulations of developing as a front-row player.
The Ospreys would argue that Jones has a long season ahead of him, with a potential Lions tour at the end of it, and they need to make sure he is properly conditioned after finishing last term late with Wales.
But the reality is the longer his return is delayed the longer it will be before normal service at the Liberty is resumed.
The same goes for Ryan Jones, notwithstanding the promise of James King, a youngster who looks the genuine article.
Rees was spot on to say the scrum wasn't the main issue against Ulster.
There were so many other areas of concern, not least the back play, which rarely rose above mediocre. There was a lack of authority and poise, not to mention raw power to batter the opposition on the gain-line.
The Ospreys were too loose, wanting to run without establishing dominance up front. It meant that for all their good intentions, Rhys Webb and Matthew Morgan were regularly collared, with Morgan turned over three times.
When Dan Biggar came on in the 61st minute, the move prompted warm applause from the crowd. A year ago, supporters were cheering when Morgan replaced his more experienced colleague. Such are the vicissitudes of sport.
To his credit, Morgan didn't hide at any stage. He is a confidence player and it wasn't his night. But he kept trying.
Biggar's tap on the head as he ran past Morgan onto the pitch was a nice touch. He has been there himself and understands the trauma of a tough evening.
It was a quiet evening for Ashley Beck. Indeed, he barely showed up on the radar in the first half, not carrying until shortly before half-time.
Before the game, Rees had urged the youngster to boss matches, but you can be Philippe Sella, Mike Gibson, Tim Horan, Brian O'Driscoll, John Dawes and Scott Gibbs all rolled into one — without ball there's only so much influence you can have on a game.
Beck's class is undoubted, but if he is to challenge for a Wales shirt this autumn he needs to start taking games by the scruff.
Hanno Dirksen scored a fine solo try and contributed a double-figure haul of carries, but there were too many inaccuracies in the back three, notwithstanding the impressive work of replacement Tom Grabham.
The youngster has speed to burn, courage and a step, the raw ingredients to make a serious mark at this level. If there is a fast-track at the Ospreys, the assumption has to be that he will be put on it.
Ahead 13-3 in the 56th minute, the region saw their lead whittled away as Ulster got on top in the scrums and Stephen Ferris arrived to put himself about in the loose. Ferris is more of a man-handler than a ball-handler, a player who had Lion written all over him during his cameo in Swansea.
Paul Marshall's try with five minutes remaining put the visitors in front for the first time, but the truth is neither side deserved to win.
Stand-outs for the Ospreys included Justin Tipuric, especially in the second half, and Ryan Bevington, who drove 15 metres with the ball at one point and whose ten tackles included a recklessly brave hit on the rampaging Nick Williams.
There weren't many more pluses.
Friday against Glasgow in Swansea can only get better.