Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy is excited about growing his side’s squad depth after naming a much-changed side for their Guinness PRO12 clash with Newport Gwent Dragons.
Wales’ first autumn international is against Australia next weekend but Dan Lydiate and Scott Baldwin have been released from the training camp and will start against their Welsh rivals.
The Dragons have not claimed local bragging rights over their neighbours since their last victory back in 2012 and they have not won at the Liberty Stadium since 2010.
But Tandy knows his much-changed side will need to be at their best on Saturday – and he is looking forward to seeing the next generation show their hand.
“Our development pathway keeps on producing young talent and we are immensely proud of what we do, continually leading the way in terms of players going through to the national squad,” he said.
“The consequences of that success are clear, and we realise that we are the hardest hit of all four regions again this weekend.
“That’s a fact of life that we are used to now, we have to prepare for it over the course of a season and deal with it. Until the season structure changes, there’s nothing we can do about it so we have to front up, as the Ospreys do.
“We’ve talked about growing squad depth and we’ve seen evidence of that this season. We’ve got to go to the next level on Saturday against a side that hasn’t been so badly hit, but it’s exciting. When you look at the young talent that will be pulling on the shirt this weekend, supplemented by some huge experience, it’s a good blend and we are looking forward to the game.
“It’s a derby match, regardless of who is out there, so it’s going to be tough, it’ll be physical, and the supporters will no doubt help to create a pretty special atmosphere. We are playing at 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon as well, which is a rarity in itself, so it should be a good occasion for everyone.”
Wales international Tavis Knoyle will make his first start for the Dragons and is joined in the half-backs by experienced fly-half Nick Macleod.
The centre partnership remains unchanged as Jack Dixon and Sam Beard retain their positions, whilst there is a change in the back three at full-back as Tom Prydie steps in alongside wings Pat Howard and Adam Warren.
The front row is all change as hooker Thomas Rhys Thomas returns to the starting XV alongside props Sam Hobbs and Brok Harris. The second row sees Nick Crosswell and Rynard Landman named, whilst the back row sees skipper Lewis Evans return with Nic Cudd keeping his place at flanker and Ed Jackson returning to No.
And Kingsley Jones has called on his side produce their best and claim a first win over a Welsh regional rival since 2014 and a first away win in the league since March of last year.
But to do that they will need to show a response from back-to-back losses in Europe over the past fortnight – including last weekend’s loss in Russia to Enisei STM.
“I don’t think you’ll see the same thing this weekend, we’ve got to move forward quickly. It’s all in the top two inches, the mental approach to the game, so let’s hope we get a reaction this weekend,” he said.
“There’s no better place for the players to prove it was a one-off bad day, no better challenge mentally than to go the Liberty.”
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 26, Ospreys won 17, Dragons won 9.
At Liberty Stadium, 3pm Live on S4C and Sky Sports
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 31st competition game)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Davies, Robert Price (both WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Gwyn Bowden (WRU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)
Keelan Giles scored two more tries as Ospreys returned to the top of the Guinness PRO12 with a convincing 35-17 bonus-point win against Newport Gwent Dragons at the Liberty Stadium.
The home side struggled in the first 20 minutes but as soon as Tom Habberfield scored their first try victory seemed inevitable, as they preserved their strong record against the Dragons – who they have not lost to in the Guinness PRO12 since 2012.
Scott Baldwin, released from Wales international duty to start the match along with flanker Dan Lydiate, scored Ospreys’ second from a rolling maul just before the break.
And in the second half Ospreys cut loose as Giles made it eight tries in four appearances with his pair, while Brendan Leonard put the icing on the cake late on before the Dragons scored two consolation tries through replacement Matthew Screech and Pat Howard.
The Dragons, who have won just once all season, handed a first start to scrum half Tavis Knoyle, who partnered the recalled Nick Macleod at fly-half.
And the visitors made a bright start by moving the ball confidently and quickly, earning a fourth-minute penalty which Macleod slotted over.
Ospreys’ slow start got worse minutes later when prop Dimitri Arhip was handed a yellow card, but the Dragons failed to make their extra man advantage count as they coughed up the ball when just inches from the try line.
And they were made to pay when Ospreys scored the game’s opening try in the 22nd minute as captain Habberfield caught the Dragons out when he picked the ball up off the back of a five-metre scrum, held off desperate tackles and planted the ball down to give his side the lead.
From there, the home side enjoyed more possession and territory and with that their confidence grew as speedy winger Giles darted down the right, only to be bundled into touch just five metres out.
But they scored their second try just before the break as some neat footwork from Josh Matavesi in his own half, allowed him to release Giles through the heart of the Dragons side.
After he was dragged down, the referee awarded Ospreys a penalty which they kicked for touch, and a rolling maul was capitalised on by hooker Baldwin who powered over.
Giles was kept largely quiet in the first half but he came alive minutes after the break as he scored Ospreys’ third try after breaking through from close range.
And just over ten minutes later the 18-year-old took advantage of a Dragons handling error by booting the ball forward and beating the Dragons defence to the ball to score his second of the match to secure Ospreys a bonus point.
Ospreys controlled the game from there, defending well and preventing the Dragons from getting anywhere near the try line.
And they wrapped it up thanks to former New Zealand international Leonard, who darted over from close range following a ruck, before the Dragons scored through Screech who muscled over.
Howard scored with the last action of the game with a neat try in the corner after a the ball was moved quickly right, but the visitors’ comeback was cut short as they ran out of time.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final