Match Preview: Ospreys vs. Ulster Rugby

Craig Gilroy

Craig Gilroy returns to the starting line-up after illness last weekend

How ironic that after 21 rounds of rugby, it all comes down to the final day.

Only one point separates ourselves and the Scarlets in fourth and fifth and with both sides facing very difficult away trips on the final weekend, it’s almost impossible to gauge who’s going to take that final spot in the play-offs. Right now you would probably give us the advantage as we are ahead and we also have statistically the easier away game.

I won’t get into the permutations here but if you want to read them then skip ahead to the stats at the bottom.

Instead we should probably focus closely on the task at hand in the Ospreys – a side who normally would be challenging for the top four but have this season fallen on tough times and, remarkably, are odds on to miss out on the Champions’ Cup next season. A combination of early season injuries and World Cup call-ups meant that they started the 2015/16 campaign well off the pace (including an opening day defeat in Belfast) and never made up the ground.

But even though they do languish down in seventh place they are still a very dangerous team and, like us, you only have to look at their half-backs to see where their dangermen lie. Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar are two men in form and both have the ability to turn a game on its head: Webb through his quick distribution and sniping around the base, Biggar through his outstanding kicking game and kick chase.

They know that to stand any chase of making Europe’s premier competition next season they will more than likely have to pick up all five points on offer so expect an expansive game with plenty of running rugby, perhaps more than what the Ospreys tend to be used to. They will back their young back-line, marshalled by Webb, Biggar and the underrated Dan Evans from full-back, and if they can get quick ball then they can be dangerous.

But we really should be confident that this game is there for the taking.

We are very high on confidence after last week’s result and we can use a lot of what we did in that game as a platform to build upon. Our maul defence was excellent, our defence in midfield was equally good and our ability to turn the screw when we needed to was very impressive. We have a fly-half in the form of his life and the backline to carve teams apart at will – we should not fear going to Swansea.

Not only are they decimated by injuries but we also know that they need the five points so they will be vulnerable in that sense too. As impressive as they have been in recent weeks, this is not the Ospreys side that we are used to struggling against and we really should be looking at a win at the very least.

If we can play like we did against Leinster then we should win this game and as long as the players know what’s going on in Limerick at the same time then we should have confidence they can get the result that we require – be that four points or even the full five points. We have seen this team grow over the course of the season and now it’s time to see exactly how much our boys have matured as a squad.

I said at the start how it’s ironic that after all the rugby that’s been played it comes down to 80 minutes of rugby in Swansea and Limerick. We have our destiny in our own hands – win and we’re in (unless the Scarlets pull off a miracle in Thomond). And despite our poor away record this season, you would like to think that our guys have the experience, the willpower and, most importantly, the desire to get the job done.

It all comes down to this.

The stats

The Ospreys are in need of a victory to stand any chance of reaching the Champions’ Cup next season, and ideally a bonus point win at that, but that even may not be enough should Munster defeat the Scarlets, inadvertently doing us a favour in the process.

Our opponents have won their last three games, all with bonus points (over Cardiff, Treviso and the Dragons), however their last defeat was at home to the Scarlets in round 18.

A bonus point win for us will guarantee us a semi-final and, should other results miraculously go our way, we could still be in with a shot of a home semi-final, while anything less than a five-pointer from us will leave us relying on Munster to do a job on the Scarlets. Our only defeat in our last five games was away to rampant Glasgow in round 18.

We’ve lost only once in our last five fixtures against the Ospreys – this fixture last season when they defeated us 20-31 at the Liberty Stadium.

The teams

Four personnel changes and several positional changes for the Ospreys from their win over Cardiff at Judgment Day last week. In the backs Eli Walker is recalled to the wing in place of the injured Hanno Dirksen while in the centre Owen Watkin moves to outside centre in place of Jonathan Spratt with Josh Matavesi taking the vacant inside centre jersey. In the pack Adam Beard has failed a late injury test so he is replaced in the second row by Rory Thornton while in the back row it is all change with Dan Lydiate switching from number eight to blindside flanker, James King taking the eight shirt having started at openside flanker last weekend and Sam Underhill coming into the line-up at openside flanker as the final personnel change.

Craig Gilroy is the sole change to Ulster’s line-up from last week’s win over Leinster – the winger is reinstated having withdrawn from last week’s game with an illness meaning the team announced is unchanged from the initial team named to play Leinster. Pete Browne has recovered from an ankle injury to start in the second row.

 

Ospreys vs. Ulster Rugby

Saturday 7th May, 15:00

Liberty Stadium

Guinness PRO12 – Round 22

 

Live on Sky Sports 1

 

OSPREYS

15. Dan Evans, 14. Ben John, 13. Owen Watkin, 12. Josh Matavesi, 11. Eli Walker, 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Rhys Webb (capt.); 1. Nicky Smith, 2. Scott Baldwin, 3. Dmitri Arhip, 4. Rynier Bernardo, 5. Rory Thornton, 6. Dan Lydiate, 7. Sam Underhill, 8. James King.

Replacements: 16. Scott Otten, 17. Gareth Thomas, 18. Aaron Jarvis, 19. Joe Bearman, 20. Olly Cracknell, 21. Brendon Leonard, 22. Sam Davies, 23. Tom Grabham.

ULSTER RUGBY

15. Jared Payne, 14. Andrew Trimble, 13. Luke Marshall, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Craig Gilroy, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Callum Black, 2. Rory Best (capt.), 3. Ricky Lutton, 4. Pete Browne, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Iain Henderson, 7. Chris Henry, 8. Sean Reidy.

Replacements: 16. Rob Herring, 17. Kyle McCall, 18. Andy Warwick, 19. Robbie Diack, 20. Roger Wilson, 21. Paul Marshall, 22. Stuart Olding, 23. Darren Cave.

 

Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 52nd competition)

Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges, Gwyn Morris (both WRU)

Citing Commissioner: Dennis Jones (WRU)

TMO: Derek Bevan (WRU)