Richard Hibbard ready to put friendships to one side as Ospreys head into Heineken Cup crunch with Leinster
IT will be friends reunited in Swansea tomorrow, but Richard Hibbard insists there will be no exchange of buddies' bracelets on the pitch and any hugs will have to wait until after the game.
Leading players from the Ospreys and Leinster made common cause with the Lions in Australia this summer and forged bonds that are likely to endure for the rest of their careers.
But for 80 minutes in Swansea cordial relations will have to be suspended as the realities of European rugby take hold.
The two sides are in a Heineken Cup pool that is being tipped to resemble four ferrets fighting in a sack, with French champions Castres and English heavyweights Northampton also involved. Pleasantries will be kept to a minimum, even between mates who toured Down Under.
"You go away for ten weeks with these boys and get to know them pretty well," said Hibbard. "You fight for each other on the pitch when you're with the Lions but now we're up against them.
"Your mindset has to change for the 80 minutes that you're ripping into them.
"They and we know we're going into battle and we both want to win.
"Friendships will be put on hold for the duration of the match and I've got a feeling this could be one of the biggest and best games in the history of the Ospreys in the Heineken."
Kevin Pietersen v Jack Wilshere it is, then, or even Paolo di Canio v the rest of the world. Foes rather than friends.
For a couple of hours at least.
Leinster will arrive as Amlin Challenge Cup and Pro12 champions, a side who know how to get the job done.
But it isn't as if the Ospreys will fear them.
Two Pro12 final victories over the Dubliners, both at the RDS, will encourage belief in the Welsh side's camp that they have the game to stymie the freewheeling Irishmen, while a 29-29 draw at the home of the same opponents a month ago won't hurt the Welsh side's belief.
The key is cutting the supply line to the Leinster backs.
Do the Ospreys have the pack to do that? Well, if they don't then no-one has.
But they need be at their best for 80 minutes rather than play in spurts as they did against Ulster last weekend. In fact, it could be argued that they only engaged full throttle in the final two minutes a week ago, when they were down to 14 men yet came close to rescuing the game, with an Adam Jones-powered surge in the final moments demolishing the visitors' scrum.
"They showed what they could do in those closing minutes," said Ulster coach Mark Anscombe after the game. "When they get some hunger up, they are a dangerous side."
But two-minute surges and kind words from the opposition coach will not be enough to leave Steve Tandy a happy man tomorrow evening.
It is a home match and in a pool that is likely to be exceptionally tight, the Ospreys have to get the result right. Defeat isn't an option.
"It's a plum fixture and you have to win your home games, as simple as that," said Hibbard.
"Our pack didn't go well against Ulster but we have enough experience to know where we went wrong and how to fix the problems.
"Our set-piece, which we pride ourselves on, wasn't great.
"This Saturday we have to front up and get on top of Leinster. They are a good side, but we think we are as well and we will not be leaving anything on the field come the final whistle.
"You never want to lose a game but if there's ever a good time to do so it's the week before the Heineken Cup because it's given us a kick up the backside.
"Sometimes a great start to the season, like we had, can lull you into a false sense of security.
"So what happened against Ulster might not be a bad thing. It happened for a reason and it's brought us back to earth with a bump. It's made us focus and we know if we make the same errors against a team of Leinster's ilk, we'll be in big trouble."
How the Ospreys could do with a Hibbard special tomorrow: a display where the hooker raises his commitment level to a point where few opponents dare to go. He performed like that for Wales against England in March and for the Lions against Australia in the final Test Down Under, galvanising those around him with his fearlessness and relish for high-octane collisions.
When he inhabits such a zone it doesn't just affect the opposition physically. It also fazes them mentally because they are unlikely to have anyone in their ranks blessed with such a cavalier disregard for his personal well-being.
But the Ospreys know they need to play flat-out as a team, too, with their respect for Leinster obvious.
"The Heineken Cup has been their competition in recent years," said Hibbard. "They've won it three times, so this game has the potential to be the hardest clash we've had with them.
"From one to 15 they're a quality outfit. They have players there who know how to win this competition because they've done it before and not just once.
"But we have some great players as well and this is a challenge we are relishing.
"It's no good worrying about them.
"We have to sort out our problems from last week because we need to be on fire come Saturday night."
For those who like it hot, the Liberty tomorrow evening will be the place to be.