Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.
Words have been replaced by deeds. Endless previews and speculation have been replaced by cold hard stats.
Something else let slip was BBC Alba’s Pro14 coverage. Premier Sports, and their promise to show all 152 Pro14 games for under a tenner a month, have taken over. First up for said coverage was Ospreys v Edinburgh at The Liberty Stadium on Friday night.
Both the hosts and the visitors decided to come out all guns blazing, at least in terms of selection.
Ospreys gave league debuts to Welsh internationalists George North, Scott Williams and Aled Davies as well as new recruit Tom Botha whom they signed from Cheetahs.
Edinburgh also elected to stack the deck with a raft of new recruits including Pierre Schoeman, Luke Hamilton, Henry Pyrgos, Simon Hickey, and Matt Scott.
Ospreys kicked deep to start the match and almost immediately Pyrgos made a break up the short side and put a grubber through which Van Der Merwe also kicked on before juggling it a couple of times and then knocked it on. It was a hard one for him to try and control but it set the tone for the rest of the game as Edinburgh never lacked for intent but had more than 20 handling errors throughout.
It was also just about the last time Edinburgh had any real possession until the 15th minute.
In that period they defended well and had a little luck on their side. Ospreys had a claim for a try after a kick through from Scott Williams led to the TMO’s intervention – it was really close but the decision was that the retreating Pyrgos just got the touchdown before fullback Dan Evans.
The resulting 22 dropout led straight to another Ospreys attack and a deliberate knock-on from Matt Scott as he flapped at a passing ball. He should have seen yellow for it (especially with the accountant-like refereeing of John Lacey) but he didn’t, and Edinburgh were then doubly relieved when Price missed the penalty.
It took until the 29th minute before Edinburgh opened the scoring. After a series of rucks around the halfway, Pyrgos cleverly passed the ball straight into the body of Botha who was lurking offside. Penalty to Edinburgh which Simon Hickey kicked to make it Ospreys 0, Edinburgh 3.
Unfortunately, straight from the restart Edinburgh tried to run it from deep and conceded a penalty for holding on and Price levelled the score at 3-3. That was to be Price’s last significant contribution as he was replaced by Sam Davies in the 38th minute following a collision with Pyrgos.
After the stop for that injury Hickey missed touch with a penalty, the Ospreys ran it back and forced a scrum after yet another Edinburgh knock on. Lacey adjudged Edinburgh to have infringed at the scrum and Davies first action was to miss the resultant kick at goal to leave it as 3-3 at half-time.
Half-time: Ospreys 3-3 Edinburgh
Edinburgh seemed to start the second half with more urgency and kept the ball within the forwards, short carries giving them some momentum. Another three handling errors within the first ten minutes of the half soon brought that to a halt though. The pick-and-goes did however bring some joy in the 53rd minute when Ospreys held on just too long at a ruck under their posts. Edinburgh would have liked the try as a reward but in what was looking like a close game they quite rightly elected to take the three easy points from the boot of Hickey to take the lead.
Ospreys got the first try of the match shortly thereafter. They forced a lineout close the Edinburgh try line, which they tried to take quickly in front of the mark. They were afforded a second shot at it by Lacey, spun it wide to the impressive George North who easily stepped inside Blair Kinghorn for a simple score. Davies added the conversion: 10-6.
Edinburgh’s woes with ball in hand weren’t over by a long way and in the 68th minute, a promising attack came to an end as Pyrgos dropped the ball at the base of a ruck deep into the Ospreys 22. The home side snatched possession and went wide again to North who ran it in unopposed from long range. His opposite man Duhan Van Der Merwe – who may have had the pace to catch him – was still on the opposite side of the field having been involved in the previously mentioned ruck.
With ten minutes to go that should have been all she wrote but the one thing this Edinburgh side don’t do is give up, and they came close through substitute Jamie Ritchie and Van Der Merwe before Kinghorn crossed the left-side touchline with a nicely timed approach. Jaco Van Der Walt kicked the extras to bring the margin down to the the 4 point gap it would remain at.
In the dying minutes an excellent Van Der Walt kick chased by Fife gave Edinburgh a lineout within 5 metres, but in keeping with the overall nature of the game the driving maul that followed splintered – at least as Lacey saw it – and gave Ospreys possession at the scrum which they duly won and kicked into touch.
The good – defence was solid for the most part and only the strength and skill of George North was the difference. Pierre Schoeman was immense on the charge and is a real find.
The bad – Edinburgh used the maul repeatedly, got nothing from it and didn’t really have an alternative idea.
The ugly – only one thing but 20 of them: unforced handling errors all over the park.
Two moments of George North skill apart Ospreys were pretty ordinary and only Edinburgh’s inability to retain possession gave them a foothold in the game. So to give up that many advantages and still be within the losing bonus point margin would suggest that there is no reason to be too downcast at this stage. Indeed overall possession and territory stats of 63% and 62% respectively whilst forcing Ospreys into making 197 tackles (more than double Edinburgh’s total) would suggest that there was much more right than wrong.
Cockerill was quoted as saying that the team had 8 hours on the bus to think about the match; I’d be surprised if he didn’t have them doing handling drills in the aisle on the way home.
It’s only going to get harder so it does need to be sorted but the raw materials are there. I have faith.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Has to go to Pierre Schoeman. He carried strongly, made more tackles in the forwards than anyone except Hamish Watson and he scrummaged superbly. He really didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.