Despite the obvious disappointment of seeing Leicester Tigers thwarting the Ospreys' European aspirations for the season, Head Coach Steve Tandy has emphasised his pride in the manner in which his team have performed in the Heineken Cup, insisting that the future is bright for a young squad that has acquitted itself positively against some of Europe's leading outfits.
The 15-15 draw at the Liberty Stadium ended the region’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages, but having watched them follow-up last month’s win over French aristocrats Toulouse with another eye-catching performance over Leicester, Tandy remained in an upbeat mood.
Speaking at the post-match press conference, Tandy spoke passionately about the team spirit within the dressing room, stressing that although disappointed at not winning that afternoon, the European campaign in general had been a positive experience for the Ospreys.
“There’s real disappointed within the changing room that we didn’t get the win, obviously, but as I’ve just told the boys in there, I’m really proud of what they are doing for this cause” said Tandy.
“It seems players are dropping like flies at the minute. We lost Ross Jones with just 30 seconds of the warm-up left which meant Tom Habberfield came in for his Heineken debut, a young scrum half on the wing, but he typified everything about this group.
“There’s no excuses within this group. That’s not what we’re about, that’s not what I’m about or the other coaches. The guys just want to step up when needed, they all want to play for the shirt and we really are starting to build something.
“There’s disappointment for the players because I think they deserved more. The way they represent themselves when they wear that Ospreys shirt is special. I know we haven’t got that result, but I think when you look back on this Heineken Cup campaign it’s been a really positive one for us. We’ve found out a hell of a lot about our young kids.
“I think it’s been a really positive Heineken Cup for us, even without qualifying. The future is bright for the Ospreys. We’ve got a real young group, as coaches we are proud today, even if we disappointed at drawing. I think it typifies the attitude in the group, going 15-10 down so late in the game to come back and draw it was great.
“We had opportunities to put them away and it’s disappointing that we didn’t take them. Over the two games we’ve played some really good rugby. Up there I thought we had Leicester on the ropes but came away with nothing. We've hit the woodwork three times today but know that in the Heineken Cup it’s about fine margins.”
Having found themselves pooled with four times winners Toulouse, whose turnover is quadruple of that of the Ospreys, and twice Heineken champs Leicester with a turnover figure double the Ospreys, Tandy says he’s been delighted with how his youthful squad has gone toe-to-toe with the big guns, especially given the injury setbacks they’ve faced along the way.
“There’s a lot said about the salary cap, about the difference in budgets between ourselves and Leicester or Toulouse, but there’s no point moaning about it” he insisted.
“We’ve got to find the players. I think through this campaign we’ve found out a hell of a lot more about Ryan Bevington, Scott Baldwin, James King, Lloyd Peers, Sam Lewis, Ross Jones, Eli Walker, Tom Habberfield. Justin Tipuric is still young, there was no Ashley Beck there today, Hanno Dirksen. Then we were without Alun Wyn, Ian Evans, Jarvis. Do I need to go on?
“We’re a proud bunch. We’ve got a real good set of personalities and the group doesn’t know when it’s beaten. Most other teams would have thrown the towel in I think, at 15-10, but this one doesn’t, regardless of who wears the shirt. We are building a team.
“It’s well documented that financially we can’t compete with a lot of other teams, but one thing we are is proud Ospreys, whenever they wear that shirt, and we are building. There are no ifs and buts about it. We need help, if I’m honest, but within this group we’ve got good professionals like Kahn, Biggs, Bish, Alun Wyn, Adam, who are bringing the younger boys through. It’s a really positive place to be.
“People want to play for each other, it rubs off on each other, and they don’t want to let anyone down. I can see us being down 20 players next month when the internationals come around, with seniors and U20s, but we are building a group here, and that group fight like no team I’ve ever seen or played in. They don’t know when they are beaten, and when we’ve been constantly hit by injuries no one looks around and thinks ‘oh my God someone’s not playing’, it’s ‘right, Lloyd Peers is playing, brilliant, he’s doing fantastic for us’. We are speaking about people like him and Eli as though they are seasoned professionals yet it’s their first season.
“That’s where we’ve seen a real massive shift from this group again. It’s a great place to come to work. Money can’t buy you a team. It helps, it allows you to make the squad a little bit thicker, but you have to build a team. I tell you, I’m a really proud coach today with the group we’ve got.
“We’ve shown that we can compete, at Welford Road, out in Toulouse, beating Toulouse here and today. Even though we’ve been patched up, I still think we did enough to win the game. We’ve hit the woodwork three times, and just the physical effort. I’m looking around that group and I’m a real proud coach.”