Tips looking over shoulder as Lewis learns quickly
JUSTIN Tipuric will return to the Ospreys' starting line-up in Galway on Saturday, needing to hit the ground running to match the form of the Swansea University student who is developing at a rate of knots.
Sam Lewis has been arguably the Welsh region's player of the campaign so far, with top-drawer performances against Treviso, Leinster and Edinburgh, games in which he totalled 45 tackles all told, including 17 against the Scots.
The Ospreys have acknowledged how well the part-time student has been performing, but it now over to the world-rated Tipuric for a response.
The most creative openside playing the game, the 24-year-old Lion had a mixed return after coming off the bench against Edinburgh, picking up a yellow card for a tip tackle but also achieving a trademark turnover and missing nothing in defence.
His quality is undoubted and he will get the chance this weekend to double underline what he's about when the former Pro12 champions visit Connacht.
"We are bringing back Tips this week," said Ospreys' head coach Steve Tandy.
"He will be starting.
"We feel we have two pretty special sevens at the minute.
"There's a world-class British and Irish Lion in Tips, but Sam is developing at a hell of a rate of knots and it's great to have that sort of competition.
"How do they differ? Tips is a real good footballer who has that something extra, while Sam is so destructive in defence and the area where he has made the biggest improvement is in terms of his attacking game.
"He has been outstanding with the ball in his hands this season.
"They are getting closer together and it's brilliant to have two such outstanding sevens. They are both destructive. Sam's tackle technique and work rate are unbelievable, and the same goes for Tips."
Tipuric encountered his latest yellow peril when tackling Edinburgh scrum-half Sean Kennedy. The decision looked harsh, with the Osprey seemingly doing what he could to ensure the safe passage to the floor of his opponent, but the TMO felt differently and a card was brought out.
But the Ospreys don't believe Tipuric has a problem with his tackling technique.
"It's a fine line where a tip tackle is concerned," said Tandy.
"It's an aggressive game and you can catch someone off balance and mistime your tackle. There are going to be borderline decisions for sevens around the tackle area — some will go your way, others won't.
"But Tips is an outstanding player who leaves nothing on the field. In terms of his tackle count and his ball-carrying, he gives everything he's got."
Despite being unbeaten so far this season, the Ospreys still feel they are moving up the gears with Europe barely a fortnight away.
They were pleased with the displays of all their Lions in the 44-10 victory over Edinburgh, with Alun Wyn Jones starting his season with a typically rousing display, and Ian Evans, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones and Tipuric all contributing strongly to the bonus-point success.
But the coaches also felt their side turned over too much ball in the first half and were imprecise at times with their passing.
That said, Eli Walker did his cause no harm with a two-try display that left watching Wales coach Warren Gatland impressed.
At 21 Walker is still learning his trade, but there is no quicker player in Welsh rugby and he has also hugely improved his work-rate, now having the confidence to come off his wing, search for the ball and pose a threat infield as well as out wide.
Gatland was at the Ospreys yesterday, casting his eye over training, and the Ospreys have challenged Walker to push on and clinch a place in the New Zealander's autumn-series squad.
"Eli has to earn it," said backs coach Gruff Rees.
"He has kicked on in his last two games and did a lot of good against Edinburgh, searching for work off the ball, finishing impressively and looking sharp in all he did.
"If he maintains that consistency, and lights up Europe like last year, he'll be close to the Wales squad."
Connacht are expected to pose a stern challenge. "It is a tough place to go," added Tandy.
"They are always competitive and we are still gelling players. It will be only Alun Wyn Jones's second start and the same goes for Ian Evans. But we feel we are in a decent place and we are looking for another strong performance."