The Ospreys maintained their 100% success rate after seven outings, when despatching Leinster 11-3 in a match that never lived up to the advance billing.
The details of this match are easily disposed of. Two first half Gavin Henson penalties plus a second half Sonny Parker try to one David Holwell penalty just after the break gave The Neath-Swansea Ospreys an 11-3 win.
Hidden in that is that this was a desperately disappointing match between two sides of whom so much more was anticipated. They cancelled each other out rather than inspired each other to new heights. Defences were generally on top, but were assisted in their task by too many errors and some tactical naivete.
Leinster were particularly disappointing. Most of that tactical naivete was on their part, as they persisted with trying to do too much on the ball. It’s all very well having great pace and ability in your side, it’s the use you make of it that’s critical. If David Holwell is to make the difference to this side, he is going to have to show some real leadership and tactical nous. Sad to relate, it hasn’t been terribly evident so far. I know, give him time – it’s only his second game…
Despite winning a reasonable amount of possession through the match (after 73 minutes they had won 51% of the ball), Leinster spent almost all of the second half in their own turf. There were a couple of reasons for this. One was the rocket-propellor attached to Gavin Henson’s right boot. He was able to pin the Leinster side back on a number of occasions, and in particular, outbreaks of ‘ping-pong’ kicking generally ended with Henson dropping deep to punish Leinster.
The other was that Leinster couldn’t penetrate when moving the ball. O’Driscoll was wrapped up well and there was little quick ball coming from it. But there was a over-reliance on trying to send him up the middle, whether deliberate or not. Leinster never got the ball wide and kicking was limited to clearances or the occasional high ball, rather than for position.
Mind you, The Ospreys rarely got the ball even up the middle. They battered away around the fringes, but generally foundered on solid Leinster fringe defence. However, they were content to do so in the knowledge that they were in the right part of the pitch and penalties were coming. The reality is that it could have been a lot worse. Gavin Henson was sporting a newly-charcoaled grey hair look. Very Richard Gere. Problem was, he kicked like Gere off the deck. A return of two from eight shots at goal was more Jim Henson than Gavin, but illustrates The Ospreys true dominance in the second half.
As that half progressed, it became clear that Leinster were going to need one of their rather over-ambitious gambits from deep to pay off to change the course of the match. But, trailing by three at 6-3 in the 76th minute, the match was effectively sealed after Adrian Durston, displaying a quality step, broke the initial line before being taken down by a combination of Hickie and O’Driscoll. The quickest ball of the night, however, saw The Ospreys go back blind for Sonny Parker to avail of the spread-eagled defence. Henson’s kicking fallibility kept hopes alive at 11-3.
However, Holwell had been in the sinbin since the 69th minute. It was one of those hairline decisions. Was he pinned or lying on? Referee Dickson decreed the latter, and that it was in a dangerous position, but it was a bit harsh.
Leinster’s efforts to rescue the match late on were of the ‘harder you try ‘ variety. Two 22 drop-outs will suffice to tell the tale. With Holwell off, Dempsey didn’t get the first over the line. The second was pinged for a player ahead of the ball. By now, some were watching from between their fingers.
There was one sizzling break from D’Arcy in the 84th minute, the only line break of the second half, which served chiefly to remind us of their absence.
There were some decent performances mixed in, chiefly up front, though Guy Easterby would be included. Ben Gissing was prominent in the loose, Aidan McCullen was sharp onto a couple of balls, Des Dillon got through a lot of work and the lineout functioned well.
It was never going to be easy, away to the only unbeaten team in the European leagues. Still, it’s not how you would choose to go into the Heineken Cup.