After Thursday night’s defeat to Zebre in Parma - and Ulster’s losing bonus point on Friday to end the Ospreys play-off hopes - Alun Wyn Jones has insisted that the region has a bright future ahead.
The Ospreys travelled to Italy seeking a win to keep the pressure on Ulster one place above them in the PRO12 play-off hunt, but suffered late heartbreak as Zebre overturned an 11 point deficit to clinch the win with the final play of the game as the visitors failed to close the game down, pursuing a fourth try and the bonus point that would have brought.
That left the region clinging on to the hope that Ulster would fail to secure even a losing bonus point in their final two games to hand the Ospreys a lifeline, but that feint hope was dashed when a late rally saw them secure the necessary point in a home defeat to Leinster.
Reflecting first on the disappointment of defeat, the skipper refused to make any excuses for his team.
“It goes without saying that we are bitterly disappointed” he said.
“We aren’t going to look to make excuses, because we don’t do that at the Ospreys.
“The first 20 minutes were particularly disappointing, in many ways it was the polar opposite to the Dragons and how we started the game, but it was equally frustrating. I think the scoreline at half-time was a pretty fair reflection of how it had gone up to that point.
“We got an early score at the start of the second half which put us back in contention. We got in front, but we were unable to stay there long enough. We didn’t manage the game as well as we should have. The ambition that we had to show in pursuit of a fourth try shouldn’t have superseded the importance for a win first and foremost.
“Momentum was building and we were spending a lot of time in their territory, but we didn’t keep the ball for long enough, for various reasons, and that allowed Zebre to get out of danger time after time. Pressure didn’t really come on us, we put ourselves under pressure, then error compounds error, and we find we are defending back deep inside our half from our own attack.
“Some of the mistakes are similar ones that we aren’t learning from previous games. This is as disappointing, if not more, than the Glasgow loss. If we take our errors out of those games we’d be in a far stronger position and not relying on other teams, but that is the reality of where we are today.”
Jones is one of 11 players who have committed their futures to the Ospreys since the start of 2014, signing new contracts to stay at the Liberty Stadium beyond this season, and he says that he has no doubt that he made the correct choice. Despite the disappointment of this weekend he insists that the region is on course to emerge from a season that has been overshadowed by off the field political wrangles in a far stronger position.
“I made my personal belief and my intention clear by re-signing for the Ospreys” stressed Jones.
“As a fan first and foremost I want to see the region succeed. As a player, it was a very important decision, and when you are making career decisions, from a personal point of view, you have to look into the situation a lot deeper than maybe people on the outside are able to.
“I had to look at what is being done at the region, to see the people who are coming through, the likes of Nicky Smith, Dan Baker, who people know, and plenty that you may not, they haven’t got a lot of experience but they’ve got a lot of talent. There is a lot of hard work being done to build stable foundations for this organisation on and off the field, to allow it flourish in the coming seasons. I believe in what we are doing here, for the long term good of the Ospreys. That is why I stayed here, and I want to help the region achieve its aims.
“It’s the case that the coaches and the senior players here have a responsibility to groom these young players the right way and steer them in the right direction. Unfortunately, games like Glasgow and Zebre are experiences along the road that are inevitable. If they learn as a unit from it, then it will help make them better players in the long term, and will improve the Ospreys as a rugby team.
“These boys are very young, and I am not going to use their youth as an excuse because there were plenty of older boys out there on Thursday night who didn’t play well, but you have to stress that they are still learning the game. Whatever happens, their best days are ahead of them and if we can guide them through the tough times, with a few sensible additions as is being done, then the region will be stronger next season for this experience.”
Jones refuses to accept the term ‘dead rubber’ to describe next Saturday’s home game against Connacht, the final match of the season. Instead, he stresses the importance of the Ospreys going out on a high in front of their own fans.
“Nothing changes as far as how we prepare for it, and how we treat the game” said Jones.
“We are professionals, and that’s not just a word, it has to be an attitude, a behaviour.
“It’s the last game of the season and it’s important that we reward our supporters for sticking with us throughout a difficult year. We want to end the campaign on a high, to show them that there is a bright future ahead. They have been brilliant for us all year long, as they always are, and we owe it to them to go out and perform, regardless of the play-offs being over.
“I do hope that we will have a decent turn out regardless of the disappointment. Yes, we wanted to be in the play-offs, but that’s rugby, that’s sport. How you deal with setbacks as an organisation says a lot about you, and we have to deal with this disappointment and use it as something to push us forward. There’s a lot to be optimistic about, a lot of good things happening here, and it would be good to see the rugby community coming out to show their support one last time this season before we all dust ourselves down and look ahead to next year.”
Tickets for Saturday’s game against Connacht at the Liberty Stadium are on sale now at the Ticket Office, via the Ticket Hotline on 0844 815 6665 or online at ospreysrugby.com/buytickets .
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