Oxford 12 – 52 Ospreys
A PACKED house braved the bitterly cold elements on a crisp and clear Monday night to see the Oxford Blues take on welsh giants the Ospreys who currently lie third in the Magners Celtic League. The Ospreys fielded five Welsh Internationals plus one Tongan in their starting line-up while Oxford chose to rest their international star Joe Roff. Despite the greasy conditions, a scintillating, high octane game of rugby ensued providing the fans a welcome distraction from their ever-freezing extremities.
From the first set-play of the game the Ospreys demonstrated their class and wealth of talent in the backline. A nicely timed inside ball saw young Welsh international Aled Brew skip through virtually untouched for the first score within two minutes.
Things looked ominous for Oxford at this stage, but through the lively antics of scrum-half Henry and boot of fly-half McMahon they made their presence felt. Winger Jonan Boto threatened with a couple of half breaks and only some loose passes from the base prevented the Blues levelling up the scores.
As it was, a couple of raking kicks from Connor relieved the pressure for the Ospreys and set up another attacking platform. The Magners League champions succeeded where Oxford had failed in keeping the ball tight and retaining possession, successive phases eventually freeing up winger Phillips to dart over unopposed on the blindside.
As the half progressed, the gulf in class between the two back lines became apparent. The confidence of the Ospreys’ runners allowing them to attack at pace right on the gain line, putting Oxford on the back foot. The Blues, however, chose to attack from deep, allowing the Ospreys’ defence to advance and meet Oxford’s runners with real venom. The pressure this created meant Steve Hill’s side rarely completed set piece moves and attacks often broke down.
Although shaded in the backs, the Blues pack were admirably holding their own up front against a set of forwards whose front row consisted entirely of internationals. The back row worked tirelessly, time and again arriving first at the breakdown and securing turnover ball. Only some dubious calls from the referee prevented Oxford from stealing possession more regularly.
The pack’s efforts were rewarded on 26 minutes when a catch and drive saw fresher Chris Davies bundle over and reduce the deficit to just one score.
Any hopes of reigning in the Welshmen were quickly dashed however, as slick interplay in the backs saw the Ospreys reassert their authority over the game. A second try from winger Brew followed by a try from fly-half Connor brought the half-time score to 24-5.
The half-time substitution of Sam Humphrey-Baker into the centre injected some much needed physicality and aggression into the Oxford backline. He met the Ospreys’ attacks head on with bone crunching hits that seemed to lift those around him. With the ball in hand he also posed a real threat; unafraid to take on the Ospreys’ ferocious defence and running with steely determination.
Unfortunately he could do nothing about a wickedly bouncing cross field kick from Connor that gave the Ospreys the first score of the half. He was however, instrumental in the construction of Oxford’s reply. His driving run through the heart of the Ospreys’ midfield setting up the ruck from which Henry dummied and dived over for the Blues’ second score.
With ten minutes to go Oxford were drawing the second half, but some tired legs began to give way and allowed the Ospreys to rack up a slightly flattering scoreline. A push over try from hooker Hibbard was followed by a blistering finish from rapid replacement winger Ryan Bayliss. Substitute Ashley Beck completed the scoring after some silky offloading in the Osprey backline.
Director of rugby Steve Hill remained upbeat despite the heavy scoreline. "We competed well up front against quality opposition. If we can do that in Varsity we’ll have an excellent platform from which to play."He did concede that there are still problems to address, "We must make our first up tackles and try to show some of the ruthlessness in attack that the Ospreys displayed today."