Spikey's 'negative' Munster taunt adds extra spice
Mike Phillips hasn't earned the nickname 'Spikey' for nothing.
As if there wasn't enough cordite wafting in the air following last week's tempestuous clash with Munster, the Ospreys scrum-half has poured petrol on the flames by attacking the two-time champions' "negative" approach ahead of tomorrow's mouth-watering rematch at Swansea's Liberty Stadium.
"They are a very streetwise side and it's always tough out there," said the 28-year-old scrum-half.
"They get the crowd behind them and they influence the ref a lot. They wanted to kill the ball, whereas we wanted to play -- they just wanted to play the negative stuff.
"We didn't score enough in the first half. There was a bit of wind out there that was behind us and we didn't capitalise on that enough. We didn't do too much wrong in the first half, though, in saying that.
"We're confident, still, that we can go out and get the win and stop them getting anything. We'll maybe need to play with a bit more tempo."
If anything, the Ospreys were guilty of conservatism last weekend, but the 2009 Lions scrum-half has unsubtly echoed a view first aired on Sky Sports last week that Munster deploy dark arts at the breakdown to stem quick ball.
"They like coming in from the side a lot and going off their feet at the rucks. Hopefully, the ref is going to pick that up next week and we can just play a bit.
"We're definitely still in this. We love playing at home in front of our own crowd. They are going to be behind us.
"There's going to be thousands there and it'll be a great atmosphere. It's sure to be a great occasion and hopefully, we can do it for them. There's a big promotion on, we want everyone wearing black."
Ospreys' colour of choice may yet have occasion to be deployed in a mournful sense should the home side lose what is a must-win encounter for a side that has already lost twice in Pool 3.
However, their coach Scott Johnson, who stands accused of wasting some of the finest back-line talent in Europe, has strongly refuted suggestions that he has lost faith in want-away star centre James Hook.
Hook is a target for several French clubs after struggling to displace 21-year-old sensation Dan Biggar from the out-half position and he was notably slipshod last weekend, failing to fire from inside centre as well as slipping off numerous tackles.
"Faith? Do I have faith in James Hook?" he said when asked about his under-performing star. "I don't know how many more times I have to say this. He is one of the most talented kids I have ever coached.
"You can't have more faith in a person than I have in James Hook. He's a wonderfully talented player. I just love where he plays, I just love what the kid does on a footy pitch.
"He's a special player. So, never question my faith in James Hook."
Johnson refused to stoop to Phillips' intention of highlighting Munster's tactics at the breakdown, emphasising that a lack of execution was the source of their moderate attacking gambits in Limerick.
"We weren't clearing the ball as quickly as we should have. It's a period of the year when we struggle a bit when blokes come back from playing for Wales and we don't get our constant flow. It's always been somewhat of a difficult period," he said.
"We are coming together and gelling as a team again. It takes a little while for us to get our style of play going, so it wasn't perfect. It wasn't a lack of intent. It was a lack of execution.
"We need to get a win. It's up to us. While Munster were brave and did plenty, we let ourselves down in some areas of the game.
"The improvement rests with us. We just have to make sure when we get the ball, we don't turn it over and we control more of the game. This week is about us. We just have to make sure we get our part right and not get caught up in them."
And Johnson refused to get tangled up in the machinations of bonus points, although if they do deny Munster a bonus then they arguably have an easier run-in than their Irish rivals. Munster still have to travel to Toulon, who leaped back into the qualification fray with the pool's first away win at London Irish last Sunday.
"That's not the mindset you play with," Johnson stated at the Ospreys' media day in Swansea. "We are not thinking about that. We are just going out there to win the game.
"The scoreboard would probably be the best area to improve. I was pretty happy with some areas of our game last week. The set-piece went well and there were other things that pleased us.
"We are just not finishing off our chances and we are letting ourselves down in terms of our field position. It would be nice if we could control a bit more of the game, rather than be responsive."