Sunday 25 September 2016

High-flying Ospreys wary of 'clinical edge' to Blues' attacking

Published 23/09/2016 | 02:30

Jonathan Sexton’s possible return tonight could attract a large crowd. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton’s possible return tonight could attract a large crowd. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

While the points on offer in this evening's mouthwatering clash are crucial even at this early stage of the season, there are also plenty of sub-plots.

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In every Lions year, there is a keen focus on individual match-ups in league games and that is likely to be the case this evening at the RDS as the Pro12 leaders come to town.

The likely return of Johnny Sexton will put a few extra bums on seats but the Ospreys are littered with star quality of their own.

The Welsh side arrive in Dublin on the back on three straight bonus point victories and have been playing some scintillating rugby along the way.

Frailties

155 points scored is by some way the best attacking record at this early stage, and with some questions marks still surrounding Leinster's defence on the back of Kurt McQuilkin's exit, the Ospreys will undoubtedly be looking to exploit any frailties.

Last season, the Ospreys endured a wretched start to the season, losing five of their first six games, but this time around, they look like real contenders.

The inclusion of Wales pair Alun Wyn Jones and Dan Biggar would be a huge boost for the visitors who like Leinster, face plenty of welcome selection headaches ahead of this evening's encounter.

There were plenty of improvements in Leinster's play last week against Edinburgh and while no-one is getting carried away, Ospreys' backs coach Gruff Rees is wary of the attacking threat that they pose to his side.

"There is so much possession, that's fantastic for me," Rees said of the Ospreys' form.

"You see so much quality and quantity of backs' work. There's a carrying game from individual backs and we're getting the balance right between the width of our play and going through an opposition side.

"They (Leinster) went away from home last week and really took a grip. Some of the attacks had a clinical edge."

As much as Rees and the Ospreys are mindful of Leinster's threat, they are eager to keep the focus on themselves, and the inclusion of Jones and Biggar would certainly help their cause.

Jones' potential battle with Devin Toner would no doubt catch the attention of Lions boss Warren Gatland.

The Wales lock is in the running to be Gatland's captain when the Lions tour New Zealand next summer and Rees has backed his side's talismanic figure to stake his claim.

Challenge

"Without question. He proved that when he stepped up and assumed the mantle for the last week of the 2013 tour," he said.

"I'm sure he will relish the challenge of trying to become a Lion again. But first and foremost he's celebrating his 200th game for the Ospreys and that's a milestone for us that should be truly cherished.

"Is Al's appetite still sharp to achieve things with the Ospreys? Without question. He has brought huge consistency of role, performance and mindset to the Ospreys over the years.

"I've known him a long time and I've never seen any performance dip below an eight out of 10.

"You see a lot of guys coming onto the scene and going from a high to a low pretty quickly, but to do what Al's done, managing the calendar over the course of a couple of Lions tours and countless Wales cycles - he's a phenomenal man, as well as a phenomenal rugby player."

Irish Independent

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