Holley's painful lesson
Ospreys’ boss eager to atone for Munster massacre of 2009
Published 08/12/2010 | 05:00
Sean Holley likened the scene to something from 'Raging Bull'. When he walked into the Thomond Park press room after his side's 43-9 Heineken Cup drubbing, the expression on his face mirrored his side's hapless implosion.
"It was quite surreal after the quarter-final in 2009," says Holley. "I remember myself and Jonathan Humphreys (forwards coach) walking into the press conference.
"It was like a scene out of 'Raging Bull' with flash lights going off and everything in black and white and people asking ridiculous questions about your future."
The questions were absolutely necessary though. Even Humphreys reckoned so at the time, as he quietly spoke after all the pictures were taken and the main quotes were ingested.
"I thought their intensity was fantastic," he told us. "When they bring that and live the values and culture that others talk freely about and don't live, it was a lesson to us."
When Humphreys referred to "others," he meant his own collective.
As Leinster found in days of yore, perception not only wounds, it inhibits. Just as Michael Cheika allied impressive ballast to the ballet to become European champions, so the Ospreys are searching for that winning formula.
Defeating both Irish champions on home soil en route to Magners League success last season franked the Welsh province's progress; Europe offers the chance to see if they can carry that improvement to the next level.
Tossing away a 76th-minute lead in Toulon indicated that, perhaps, the Welsh side aren't yet composed of the stuff championship pretenders are made of. Thus, away and home tussles with the two-time Heineken Cup winners Munster will reveal all.
The legendary Welsh out-half Barry John, who walked away from the game at 27 when at the peak of his powers, has seen enough evidence to drench any optimism with a realistic assessment of the Ospreys' chances.
"The Ospreys were humiliated in Limerick in 2009 and, while they have since won over there in the Magners League, this is the real serious stuff and I just can't see them doing it again," was John's honestly expressed opinion from the Valleys last weekend.
"They have the players, of course they do, but they just haven't shown they can go away for matches of this calibre and get the victories they need. We've seen that yet again this season with their defeat out in Toulon when they threw away a promising second-half position."
Others disagree. Former French international Raphael Ibanez believes that the Ospreys have a chance of upsetting long odds this weekend and if they do manage to eke out a win in fortress Thomond, housing the return tie will suddenly represent a significant bonus in terms of scheduling.
"Of course, when you play away from home against an Irish team, especially Munster, it's not supposed to be easy," according to Ibanez, a Heineken Cup winner with Wasps in 2007 and now a competition ambassador.
"But I have got confidence in the Ospreys because they have a good quality squad and the way they play is very positive. Hopefully, they will get something out of them. Last season I was really impressed with their performances.
"They just didn't manage to win the most important game away from home against Biarritz. The game was in their hands, but they lost it.
"The challenge for the Ospreys is in their heads, to turn an attacking side into a clinical one with a killer instinct on the big stage. I'm sure the coaches are working really hard to bring that mentality to the side. Ospreys have got so many good players. There isn't any reason why they can't go through from this group.
"I would like to see the Ospreys win it because their rugby is so positive and attacking. If they get it together mentally and find that killer instinct, they could be the surprise package and become the first Welsh champions of Europe.
"Toulouse are the holders and are still a big force, but last season's final was in Paris; next year's is in Cardiff at the Millennium Stadium, which is a wonderful incentive for the Ospreys."