The race for the play-offs resumes next week when the Ospreys entertain Newport Gwent Dragons for the first of back-to-back Welsh derbies on Friday night (KO 7.05pm), and Ian Gough has called on supporters to make the Liberty Stadium rock with noise and passion as the men in black chase a top four place.
The region currently sit just outside the play-off spots with five games remaining, a point behind local rivals the Scarlets, knowing that if they are going to make the end of season shoot-out for a fourth year in a row they’ll need to hit top form over the coming weeks.
Crowds have been up at the Liberty this season, with the atmosphere generated by the passionate Ospreylian support making a real impact on the players, and Gough stressed the important role that the fans will have in the end of season run-in.
“I’m hoping for big things from our crowd over the next two games”said the big second row.
“The Liberty has seen some great crowds and some great occasions this season, with the Swans and us, and it’s clear that the fans can really make the place rock when they get behind their cause. I want that passion and noise to carry through these final weeks of the season, at the Liberty for the Dragons and Treviso games and at the Millennium when we play the Blues as well.
“The supporters are as important as anyone these next few weeks if we are going to get through what will be a tough period. What they can do for us is huge. It can be a tight, dour game and someone makes a big hit and the crowd respond to that, it can ignite the place and it lifts everyone. You can see it physically and mentally making a difference to the team, and we want the crowd to be raising the tempo from the very first whistle.
“We’ve got a really proud record in this competition throughout the years and we’ve set our standard very high. We’ve still got a lot of work to do if we are going to reach the play-offs, but if the crowd reach their standard and if we can put in the level of performance that is expected of a top four team, then anything is possible.”
Although acknowledging that the Scarlets may be perceived by most as favourites to clinch the fourth place they currently hold, Gough highlighted the region’s track record of end of season run-ins as being something that could make all the difference.
“There’s no getting away from that to be fair, they are currently in fourth which is where we want to be”he agreed.
“Saying that though, we’ve prided ourselves over the years on finishing the season strongly, and we will need to do the same thing again.
“If you look at last year, our international boys came back to us off the back of a Grand Slam and provided massive impetus for us to drive through to the end of the season, building on the excellent work done by the group while they were away.
“It’s not just last year though. The league win in 2010, with the first play-off final in Dublin, was built on a great team spirit and some real resolve, bouncing back from disappointment in the Heineken Cup game against Biarritz to go on a great run with some big wins on the road in Ireland. Any league champion is going to have questions asked of them during the season and its how they respond to those questions that wins them the title. We’ve got to respond in the right way over the next two months.”
Looking ahead to the visit of the Dragons to Ospreylia, Gough said that the team knew there was no margin for error going into the game:
“Welsh derbies are always big occasions but given the league table at the moment and the fact that there’s only four games left after Friday night it makes this one massive.
“We let a few games slip early on in the season so we’ve been playing catch-up ever since but we’ve put ourselves in a position now where we are very much in contention. Our form has been pleasing on the whole in recent months, we’ve regrouped in adversity if you like, but we can’t take anything for granted.
“To put it simply, we can’t slip up again. What you’ve seen so many times in this league is that anyone can beat anyone so there’s no room for complacency. We need a big performance from 1 to 23, for the full 80 minutes.”