Ospreys are on the way back to the top

Charlie Talbot-Smith
05 June 2019

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Ospreys will be back at Europe’s top table next year – after an impressive play-off win over the Scarlets.

Justin Tipuric

And after Allen Clarke’s first season in permanent charge, that was a fitting reward for their efforts this year.

Unfortunate to miss out on the Final Series, The Ospreys produced an impressive overall campaign that saw them finish fourth in Conference A, only just behind Connacht in third.

Key strengths

It is their forward pack that has really caught the eye this year.

Their scrum has been exemplary – 95.2% success on their own ball the third best in the league and their four scrums won against the head the most in the entire competition.

The attention to the fundamentals stretches beyond just the scrum however.

Their 29 lineout steals are the most around while their 90.4% tackle success rate in defence is comfortably the best in the business – led by the indefatigable Olly Cracknell.

On the deck they are also able to produce the odd turnover, and they are fortunate to have threats not just in the back row, with centre Owen Watkin and prop Nicky Smith actually leading the way for the region.

Areas to improve

If there is an area that needs work, it is probably in attack.

The Ospreys only managed 53 tries this season – the second worst in their Conference and indeed overall in the entire league only the Dragons, Zebre and Edinburgh scored fewer.

And the stats when you dig a little deeper make that clear.

They struggled to retain possession, their 113.3 carries a game the tenth worst record in the regular season.

And when they did have the ball, they didn’t do enough with it, 351.7 metres made per game on average worse still at 11th best.

And with only 19 defenders a game beaten, most of them belonging to Dan Evans, the arriving Gareth Anscombe has work to do to help them click. Should they get it right though, the best of the league better watch out.

Star moment

Hard to look anywhere other than their final game of the season for the star moment.

Their 21-10 win over the Scarlets, thanks to tries from George North, Olly Cracknell and Hanno Dirksen, was the perfect way to sign off the campaign at the Liberty Stadium.

Having ended the season with five wins on the bounce, the Ospreys return to the Champions Cup next season as Wales’ sole representative.

Breakout player

A couple of youngsters in Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler and Dewi Lake have caught the eye this year and were suitably rewarded with senior deals and recognition at the Ospreys end of season awards.

Thomas-Wheeler, a centre, should soon be challenging for a starting spot in the Ospreys midfield while up front Dewi Lake at hooker looks a real find and with Scott Baldwin departing will hopefully come of age.

Tempting to include Cracknell here, such has been his marked improvement this year, but in truth he has been an unsung hero for his region for a while now who is finally getting his recognition.

Key man

Cracknell was the main man at the end of season awards, his 257 tackles proof of what he brings to this team.

But for a team that, as previously mentioned, spluttered in attack, it is hard to look past full-back Dan Evans.

Continually overlooked by Wales, the No.15 is a one-man battalion for his region.

He bagged four tries in one game against the Dragons – so maybe he’s a one-man bonus point as well!

His 1383 metres with ball in hand were the most of anyone in the entire league, he was fifth for carries and fourth for defenders beaten.

Who’s in for 2019/20?

Not a great deal of change for Clarke this summer to contend with, except for the main man Anscombe.

Anscombe arrives at No.10 from the Cardiff Blues and will be desperate to nail down the fly-half role for both club and country.

With Harri Morgan and Thomas-Wheeler promoted from the academy, that concludes the influx.

Who’s out for 2019/20?

Some long-serving Ospreys said their farewells at the end of this season.

Hooker Scott Baldwin is off to Harlequins while the likes of Tom Habberfield and Rob McCusker have been released along with Alex Jeffries, Giorgi Nemsadze and James Ratti.

But the big news, with the arrival of Anscombe, is that Sam Davies is off to the Dragons.

 

 

 

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