Smith expects 'big step up' from Ospreys on

As the Ospreys return to the battle for a Magners League play-off place this weekend when Connacht visit the Liberty Stadium on Sunday afternoon (KO 5.00pm), Tom Smith has acknowledged that the players face a tough challenge over the coming weeks.

With the region supplying 14 players to the Welsh squad for the Six Nations, along with Tommy Bowe to Ireland, Nikki Walker to Scotland 'A' and yet more players to the Wales age-grade and sevens squads in recent weeks, the onus falls on the core group of players at the Ospreys for two crucial Magners League matches during this period, with a trip to Edinburgh coming two weekends after the Connacht match.

As back-rower Smith says, it is important that the players who will be involved over the next few weeks are able to reach the high standards expected of Ospreys.

"It's obviously difficult when you lose a significant proportion of your squad, but I think this group has come together strongly over the last few weeks," said Smith.

"We misfired a little against the Dragons, which I suppose is to be expected when you put a team together where players and combinations haven't had much game time together, but I felt we played well against Leeds and dug in well to get a win. We've certainly bonded as a side, and over the the next couple of weeks hopefully we can put in some good performances and challenge for places when the boys come back.

"It's a very important time for us now, these next few games in the Magners League. The emphasis from the coaches these last few weeks has been about how we need to step up when the boys are away, it is our time to perform for the Ospreys and to reach the standards that they, and the supporters expect.

"We've had two games in the LV=Cup prior to this which have stood us in good stead. Yes, we are out of that competition, but they've allowed us to get rid of the inevitable rustiness that you get from a squad of players that hasn't spent too much time playing together and we are all the better for it. You need that match practice in a competitive situation to allow you to gel as a side and I think the difference between the Dragons performance and the Leeds performance was noticeable. I'd expect there to be another big step up on Sunday.

"A lot of the boys in the side haven't played together a great deal, particularly in the last two or three months, so those games were crucial in helping us gel. They are big stepping stones for us in the build up to two important Magners League games."

At 24, Smith is no longer one of the 'young uns' coming through the ranks, and after featuring 12 times already this season, taking his total of Ospreys appearances to 47, he finds himself in the strange position of being considered one of the senior players in the squad during this period. As he explained, they are circumstances he enjoys:

"It's quite funny. Sometimes I find myself looking around the changing room and I'm one of the more experienced guys and I quite like it. There are a number of younger players in the current group with less experience, so the likes of myself, who's lucky enough to have played nearly 50 times for the Ospreys now, as well as other players in the group have to stand up and help them along.

"I do enjoy being a leader, and wearing the captain's armband if and when I get the opportunity. It's something I've been fortunate enough to be given the responsibility of in the past, but I don't see providing leadership on the pitch as being just the captain's job though. You can't just go out on the pitch with one captain and everybody looking to him for leadership, you need a few leaders on the field. There are a lot of boys at the Ospreys, even in the current group, that are natural leaders so we are lucky in that respect I suppose. It certainly helps to have natural leaders right across the pitch. I certainly like to think that I can do a job in helping to encourage and motivate the boys in the squad and that's what I'll be trying to do over the next couple of games. Hopefully, it will help us to get the performances we want against Connacht and Edinburgh."