Playing catch-up catches up with Ospreys as hopes fade
THE Ospreys' Pro12 play-off challenge took a direct hit last night as five-try Glasgow surged to a 35-17 victory at Scotstoun.
The Welsh side were blown away by a superb first hour from the Scots, who took advantage of some appallingly lax play by the visitors to secure their own place in the knock-out games.
The Ospreys still have a slim chance of getting there.
But they will need to go to Leinster and win on May 3 and hope that others do them favours.
Stranger things have happened, but the golden rule at this stage of the season is to do it yourself rather than look to others for help.
The Ospreys were outplayed in the west end of Glasgow, not helping themselves with a woefully unreliable line-out that malfunctioned at least five times when the Welsh side were deep in opposition territory.
The visitors' tackling was poor, their attack one-paced and some of their players looked jaded compared to their opposite numbers. They were not even a shadow of what the Ospreys have come to represent in the Steve Tandy era.
The outstanding Justin Tipuric was one of the few to emerge from the wreckage with his reputation intact, while Joe Bearman worked tirelessly, but too many others failed to show.
Cai Griffiths and Sam Lewis scored tries and Dan Biggar chipped in with two conversions and a penalty.
But Ryan Grant crossed for two touchdowns for Glasgow and there was one apiece for Sean Maitland, Niko Matawalu and DTH van der Merwe.
Now Tandy and his coaches face a huge challenge to try to lift their players for one final effort in Dublin.
The Ospreys have been playing catch-up in the Pro12 all season, with defeats in their first three matches leaving them with a mammoth challenge to successfully defend the title they won in such style last season.
Two of those losses were in Swansea as well.
Under those circumstances, the Liberty Stadium-based region had done remarkably well to still be in contention for a play-off spot with just a couple of games of the scheduled campaign to play.
But last night was an immense challenge against a side who had spent close on four months in the top two before coming unstuck in Llanelli a week earlier.
There was a sideshow in the hours before the game after Adam Jones chose to join the debate over the Welsh Rugby Union's treatment of referee Hugh Watkins, who was banned for 12 weeks following a tweet.
Jones himself used Twitter to declare: "Maybe if the WRU worried about themselves and the regions sorting their cr*p out and not banning a ref for tweeting we may get somewhere!"
One union figure privately mused that the Osprey might have landed himself in hot water with such straight talking.
Let's just say that would be a surprise.
It is one thing to suspend a 49-year-old referee, quite another to even think of hauling over the coals a legend in his own scrum time who doubles up as arguably the most popular figure in Welsh rugby.
But politics and tweets were the least of the Ospreys' concerns in the first half against Glasgow.
Gregor Townsend's team scored three tries to lead 22-3 at the break. If two of the touchdowns featured blatant forward passes that were unforgivably missed by the officials, the Scots were still good value for their advantage.
It was indisputably the Ospreys' worst half of rugby of the season.
At times they were like a car with only two gears. They lacked pace in the three-quarters — unsurprising given that they were missing their first-choice wings and centres — and displayed next to no invention.
The warning signs were there early on, with the Scots surging upfield and the Ospreys' defence opening alarmingly. A try seemed certain for John Barclay, only for Tipuric to perform wonders to hold up the Scotland international on the line.
The reprieve didn't last long. From the resultant five-metre scrum, the hosts powered forward again, scrum-half Matawalu to the fore, before Grant broke through Tom Isaacs's attempted tackle for the score.
With Duncan Weir finally getting his kicking act together after missing two earlier penalties, Glasgow led 7-3 after 12 minutes.
There was another blow for the Ospreys soon after when Richard Hibbard left the field with a knee injury.
The Welsh side's fortunes went from bad to worse as Glasgow scored their second try.
Again, Matawalu was instrumental, the Fijian spotting that Richard Fussell was too far across the pitch and hoisting a beautifully judged kick to the corner that sat up nicely for Sean Maitland to dab down.
The Ospreys countered with a prolonged period of possession but with so many backs missing the Welsh side were desperately short of a cutting edge and Glasgow easily held them out.
By contrast, the Warriors were razor sharp in attack, powering over the gain-line and causing alarm bells to ring in the Ospreys' defence.
Whereas the Welsh side just ran into their opponents, the hosts looked for space and created openings with smart distribution.
The Ospreys were pedestrian in close on everything they did.
Their backline moves were predictable and ball-carriers were simply slammed back behind the gain-line.
When they did secure a good attacking position they overthrew the line-out, allowing Barclay to steal possession.
As half-time approached, even the Ospreys' scrum started to malfunction, with Duncan Jones penalised a couple of times and Adam Jones pinged as well.
Referee Rolland lost patience early in the second half and binned Adam Jones and Grant after more scrum shenanigans, freeing up space for both sides.
The Ospreys started to claw their way back after a well-worked try that featured rumbles from Ian Evans and Alun Wyn Jones before Griffiths powered over for his first Ospreys score close on a decade after his debut.
But the Scots reasserted themselves with an opportunist touchdown from a tapped penalty by the outstanding Matawalu, securing a bonus point.
Lewis crossed for the Ospreys, but Glasgow finished the stronger, van der Merwe going over in the corner.