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Ospreys loving Euro test

Guinness PRO12 Editor

7 Oct 2010

Richard Hibbard insists the Ospreys are looking forward to testing themselves against the ‘Chelsea’ of the rugby world.

The reigning Magners League Champions travel to France to take on big-spending Toulon this weekend as they look to get their European campaign off to a flying start.

The Magners League has an outstanding recent record in Heineken Cup competition, with three of the past five winners coming from the Celtic nations, plus two semi-finalists and three quarter-finalists from last season and three of the last four the year before.

But while Leinster and Munster have both worn the continental crown, Hibbard and the Ospreys have fallen agonisingly short.

Having made it through to the knockout stages in 2008 after five years of trying, the Liberty Stadium outfit have seen their dream end in the quarter finals of the last three tournaments.

And although lesser teams would baulk at the challenge of facing a French side packed with big names on foreign soil in the first match in their campaign, Hibbard says the Ospreys are quietly confident knowing they have just as many stars in their own ranks.

"They are the Chelsea of the rugby world," Hibbard said of Saturday’s opponents.

"But you can have great individuals, but you have to work as a team. Down here at the Ospreys, I think we are starting to work as a side.

"Toulon have got a very powerful squad, full of household names, but we have to believe in ourselves because we also have some outstanding players.

"The pressure is on Toulon this weekend. They will feel that they have to win because it’s a home match.
But I think we can go there and give a big account of ourselves."

The Ospreys have experienced plenty of ups and downs in the opening five weeks of the new Magners League season, winning three games and losing twice to sit fifth in the standings.

Away defeats at Ulster and Munster were bettered by home wins over Benetton Treviso and Aironi before last weekend’s West Wales derby triumph at the Scarlets.

And while Hibbard freely admits that the Ospreys still have plenty of room for improvement, he is convinced they are on the right track.

"We are starting to get going. We took a fair bit out of the Scarlets game, the way we held them and then upped our game and scored a couple of tries," added Hibbard.

"As Magners League champions, we are finding that teams really want to beat us.

"They really come at us in the first half, but our defence is so good that we have been mostly able to hold them off. Then we’ve been able to come through in the second half, win more ball and challenge for the game.

"We are not far from top form. We showed as much in the second half against the Scarlets and there were glimpses of what we could do against Munster, although we lost.

"We need to click this weekend."


The Ospreys are right to be confident as the Magners League Champions

They certainly will. Toulon have begun the Top 14 in decent style and, with the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, George Smith, Felipe Contepomi, Joe van Niekerk, Carl Hayman and Rudi Wulf in their squad, the Ospreys have it all to do at the Stade Felix-Mayol.

And when they return from France, things won’t get any easier for the Ospreys, with a home tie with London Irish followed by back-to-back European clashes with Magners League giants Munster in December.
“It’s a group of death, with every team top quality.

"You have to win your home games and try to pick up something from the away matches.

"Every side is in form, every side is quality. It will be a really good group to watch.

"But we’re excited about every game. We know we will have to be at our best, because if we are not at our best we won’t qualify.

"We are happy where we are going as a side. Game by game we are getting better."