See? See what I mean? Put some guys with a bit of gas in the backline and all hell breaks loose.
Yeah, I know: Ospreys, weakened team; loads of kids; inexperienced; yadda, yadda. Sorry, not buying it. This was a step-change in performance from Sale. And I include the first half in that — that was not a rubbish display of incompetent poo, as I’ve seen suggested. OK, maybe not that extreme, but that first half was actually pretty good, in context.
The context being a team a bit short of confidence, having been distinctly less than the sum of their parts for most of the season so far, and a first half that was subject to constant interruption for injury and TMO checks.
On the subject of injury, best wishes to the Ospreys flanker, Sam Cross, who appeared to do his knee in. Hope it’s not too serious and that he’s back playing soon.
I know we left four tries out there, but let’s think about them for a minute. Arran’s first not-try, for example. Yes, it was chalked off because of a bone-headed shoulder charge by Jono, but the try itself was a thing of beauty. That try was not made by the foul play – that had no material effect. We can look at it as a stonking play that unfortunately fell victim to a pretty much unrelated incident. It remains as evidence that the team can put together a good move, break the defence and get the score with style. It is also the perfect illustration of the value of someone who can run fast.
Rob’s ‘try’: it was jogged out of his arms. No shame in that. Indeed, kudos to the defender for getting in there.
Jean-LucLood’s attempt? Yeah, that was sloppy, no excuses. And Tom R’s second? Six inches to the right and he’s in legitimately. I’m not complaining: they crossed the line eleven times, seven of them counting; that four of them didn’t come off I don’t see as particularly concerning, given how few chances we’ve been making up to now.
As the cliché goes: you can only play what’s in front of you, and we’ve struggled against worse teams than that (opening game against Bath, anyone?). I’m not going to begrudge a minute of that game: even the Ospreys try – it was well-taken and, I thought, deserved for all their effort.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the second half wasn’t significantly more polished and sublime than the first (a novelty in and of itself): a creamy coq-au-vin compared to a chicken sandwich, so to speak. But what the first half did provide was a tasty transition from the previous games’ bubble-and-squeak. (Apologies to anyone for whom bubble-and-squeak is actually a gourmet delight.)
Strained culinary metaphors aside, what we got in that first half was a team finding itself again, and much of that has to do with a threat out wide. If you’ve got wings who are – shall we say? – not the speediest in the Premiership, the defence can afford to compress a bit toward the middle knowing that, if the ball does go wide, they can probably catch up. On the contrary, when you know that going wide means that all you’ll see is a rapidly disappearing arse, you need to spread out a bit more. Add to that another nippy little bugger around the breakdown and you have to concentrate on two directions at once.
I’m not going to go blow-by-blow through the match (I can’t find a full replay to refer to and I forgot to record it; check out the highlights to relive the tries at least), but I am going to stop and bask in that vision of the club’s future, that joyous passage that saw
TomBen Curry rip the ball at the breakdown, pass to Bevan Rodd (player of the season – I’m calling it now) to sprint the length of the field† and deliver a peach of a pass out to Arran for the run-in score. Faf couldn’t have done that better.
And there you have it: Curry, Curry, Rodd, Quirke, Ashman, Langdon, Roebuck, Reed, Metcalfe. The future of this club. The future’s bright, the future’s…
Got to stick in a mention for Lood’s juggling skills at the end, there. A fine backhanded offload (Chris Vui? Who he?) and another try for another academy graduate. Even though it looked as if Curtis might have knocked it on in flight. Don’t tell anyone…
Performances: I thought pretty much everyone upped their game, even the much-maligned among them. I thought Hammers showed some signs of that slipperiness that Dimes alluded to when he first signed him. Rob looked much more confident than of late – at least, I don’t recall any major howlers, not even the drop for the ‘try’ – he even managed a couple of kicks without hitting a post.
Rohan looked like the player that we were all so desperate to get signed full-time a few years ago. AJ was AJ. Coenie managed an hour without becoming a penalty magnet, Lood looked a lot more like the world’s best lock than he has so far this season. Jono (brain fart aside) played hard without giving penalties away.
We kept fifteen men on the pitch for eighty minutes.
The Currys? What is there left to say? When Sam Warburton rates Tom as one of the two best flankers in the world, and we know that Ben is just as good, it’s obvious that we need to move heaven and earth to keep them.
Reed and Roebuck looked really threatening. I think we need to persist with them. Sod the ‘defensive frailties’; we managed for several years with Steve Hanley on the wing…
Raffi, despite being a handful on the pitch, seemed to only be in third gear most of the time. That didn’t stop him from setting up Ewan’s try with a quick tap penalty that I’ll wager put a wry smile on the watching Danny Care’s face.
Speaking of Ashman, Scotland have got a good ‘un, there. Another one who just seems to get better with every game. Nurture him carefully.
I’m not ashamed to admit it, I am absolutely fanboying over Bevan Rodd this season. One of the brightest prospects I think I have seen in a long time. I kind of begrudge him going away with England, because he’s so important to the team but, on the other hand, I know that the time he does spend there will make him so, so much better. Look what it did for Tom.
This was a team that shared DNA with last season’s semi-finalists.
So, in summary: first half, still suffering a hangover from the previous few months, a bit panicky, knowing that we needed to win – should win and stuttering a bit as a result. But… But, but, but. A few good moves come off, even if a brain fart elsewhere negates them, and a bit of confidence creeps in. Still pushing a bit too hard, maybe, but half-time’s coming; a chance to calm down, assess, regroup and plan.
Then the second half. Much better. The confidence is oozing out, risks taken and coming off. A certain joie de vivre on display, looser, less uptight. This is the team I came to watch, and it’s flippin’ magic.
But let’s not get away with ourselves, though. Leicester come calling next week and, though I may not think the relative weakness of Ospreys was that much of a factor, Leicester do present a much sterner contest. We have to not let that extra threat cause us to clam up again; we have to recognise the greater difficulty posed, but try to use the confidence from this win to step up a gear and go for it. This team can beat Leicester, I’m sure of it.
As long as they don’t beat themselves first.
† At least, it’ll become length-of-the-field in the retelling…