Scott Johnson has spoken about the excitement in the Ospreys camp ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup Pool 3 clash with Leicester Tigers that will decide which of the two sides will progress through to the knockout stages (KO 1.35pm).
The Ospreys Director of Coaching acknowledged the size of the challenge that is facing his side when they entertain Guinness Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers at the Liberty Stadium in a game where the winners will book their place in the final eight, ending their opponents interest in the tournament for another season.
“We realise what we need to do on Saturday, and that is win, nothing less will do” he said.
“It’s a big game for us, a big occasion against one of the giants of European rugby and it’s winner takes all. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. Win and we are through to the quarter-finals, lose and we are out. It’s the same scenario for Leicester. That’s the situation laid bare, both sides know what’s at stake so you can be sure that it’s going to be a real battle. We’re all excited about what the afternoon has in store for us, games don’t get any bigger than this and we can’t wait.”
A home win on Saturday will see the Ospreys move ahead of the Tigers onto 20 points, a tally that will be high enough to secure them one of the two available best runners-up slots, behind Clermont Auvergne should the French side secure the points against Viadana as anticipated. However, a Leicester win would see them progress at the Ospreys expense. As the team prepare for the big game, Johnson insists that they remain on track for progression:
“When we set out at the start of this tournament, we had an idea of where we needed to be in terms of points if we were to progress from this Pool. It was always going to be a difficult task with the quality of teams involved, but we felt that if we could get to 20 points that would be enough. That’s where we are right now, a win would take us to that figure.
“It ain’t going to be any kind of ‘gimme’, Leicester Tigers are an excellent side who have been on a bit of run recently. With their European pedigree, the prospect of them missing out on the quarter-finals is unthinkable really, so you can imagine how they will be approaching this game. They have a very proud record and a history in this competition that stands comparison with anyone, so they won’t be relishing a defeat and an early exit. You can bet your house on it that they will be fired up and will come out all guns blazing.
“We can’t and won’t allow ourselves to be overly concerned with how they are thinking, we have to concentrate on getting it right ourselves. Our attention to detail has to be spot on if we are going to achieve what we need to, we have to make sure that we all get our jobs done properly, players and coaches alike.”
After tasting defeat for the first time in this season’s Heineken Cup out in France last weekend, the first task has been to lift the players to ensure they are in the right frame of mind as they prepare for the Leicester game, something which Johnson says has been easy:
“It’s never difficult to lift your players for a game like this, regardless of the disappointment we were feeling as a group last Saturday. It was a strange one really, there was plenty about the performance in France that we could take satisfaction from. Our defence was excellent, right up until the death when we started throwing it about when we looked for a bonus point and got caught out. Generally, when we had the ball in hand and were able to move it we looked dangerous, and our attitude and effort was first rate.
“What let us down was our discipline, and a penalty count against us that made it very difficult for us to build up any kind of momentum or territory at all. Without that, you will struggle to win any game of footy, never mind when you are up against a team of the quality of Clermont who were outstanding on the day and really made us pay for our indiscipline. But, Saturday is another day. We know what we need to put right, that is what we will work on this week, and make no mistake, that defeat is behind us now, we are only looking forward.”
After tasting a memorable atmosphere at the Stade Marcel Michelin last weekend, Johnson is hopeful that the Ospreys fans will be able to play their part in something similar at the Liberty Stadium. He said:
“It was a fantastic environment and a great atmosphere, their crowd were terrific and to talk in cliché’s, really were the 16th man. From the moment that we took to the field, until we were back in the changing room, all they were concerned about was backing their team and making life difficult for us and the officials. You have to savour experiences like that, win, lose or draw and marvel at the passion.
“We’ve enjoyed some memorable European days at the Liberty Stadium ourselves over the years, and we want to make this the latest in the short history of the Ospreys. If we can pack the stands out it will give the players a significant lift, and to hear them getting behind us really will help. I can remember being at Leicester earlier this season and their support showed their value after we’d built up a good lead against them, they stuck with their side and helped them to comeback. What we have to do is ensure that our fans can match that on Saturday, to give us as good a chance as we can.”
With 13,000 tickets already snapped up for Saturday’s match, supporters are being urged to ensure they act swiftly to ensure they don’t miss the game. Tickets can be purchased online at www.ospreysrugby.com, via the Ticket Hotline on 08700 400 004, or in person at the Liberty Stadium Ticket Office.