Head Coach Sean Holley was disappointed to have seen the Ospreys lose their lead right at the death as the Scarlets secured a share of the spoils through a late penalty at the Liberty Stadium, but he insists the game was great preparation for next week's European opener against Biarritz.
Having led 9-3 early in the second half, the Ospreys were pegged back by the boot of Stephen Jones and had to settle for the draw, which was still enough to see them move back to the summit of the RaboDirect PRO12 table as attention turns to Europe and a rematch against 2010 quarter-final conquerors Biarritz to get their Heineken Cup campaign underway at the Liberty next Saturday afternoon.
Speaking to the press after the final whistle, Holley was asked how he viewed the close fought game and he responded:
“Give the Scarlets credit they made it very difficult for us. They came here with a game plan in and around the tackle area didn’t they, and made life very difficult for us, and the referee. We coped with it by and large, our speed of ball was very good but we couldn’t get enough territory in the second half. Then we gave away some penalties and it proved costly for us. We’re disappointed but on reflection, nine all was probably a fair result.
“We have to go into next week knowing we haven’t won – we haven’t lost, which is important – but there was intensity around the tackle area, the Scarlets approach to it, it was good preparation for us.
“In terms of us only having one game with the whole squad back together, then you couldn’t have wanted for a better game or atmosphere. The crowd was fantastic, they turned up on Guy Fawkes Night in their numbers and cheered us on which was great. We hope for a similar crowd next week because they do make a difference. The boys always say that.”
Holley was then asked his views on the performances of Samoan new boys Kahn Fotuali’i. who took the official man of the match award on his first start for the region, and George Stowers, who made a positive impact off the bench.
“I thought Kahn was particularly physical tonight” said Holley.
“For his first start, it reminded me very much of when Justin (Marshall) first came to us. It’s about reading each other and that will take a little bit of time, but he’s an excellent professional. He’s been good with us so far and I think he showed tonight he’s a dangerous player. George, well we knew all about him from last year with London Irish and it’s showing already what we’ve got with these two.”
It proved to be a historic evening, with 22-year old fly-half Dan Biggar entering the record books with his third penalty of the night, a kick that took him past James Hook as the all-time Ospreys record points scorer, and Holley paid tribute to the youngster:
“We love Dan to bits and he deserves credit for his achievement. He takes some stick but he keeps producing doesn’t he? Not just points, for a young man he drives us, he’s diligent and professional, he’s everything in terms of values that we want at the Ospreys. He’s a local lad, he’s young, and we’re big fans of him. He carries a lot of burden and that’s a big record but it’s nice for a 22-year old to knock it off.”
Holley also responded to questions about Ian Evans and Adam Jones, before discussing selection issues for next weekend:
“I think we saw a little bit of the old Ian Evans out there also, runs down the wing and big tackles, so that’s pleasing. Adam has trained well this week and there are positive signs for next week. I don’t want to excite myself too much but the signs are good for an involvement next week.
“The result tonight tees us up, it keeps us on edge, and we’ve got some runs on the board in terms of minutes on the pitch for some of the boys who’ve come back. On purpose we picked a very strong bench tonight and they came on and made a physical impact. It’s a very difficult decision now for next week, because the boys who’ve been here throughout the World Cup, they’ve done us proud. They’ve played particularly well and they realise this moment is upon us. We’re going to have to give somebody bad news this week, but it’ll be up to those boys to respond then.”
Stephen Jones’ early yellow for a spear tackle on Tommy Bowe proved to be a talking point amongst the media, comparing it to the tackle that saw Sam Warburton sent off in last month’s Rugby World Cup semi-final, but Holley wouldn’t be drawn on it, saying:
“I think the ref dealt with it at the time, he was close to it. I looked at it at the time and thought it was a penalty, I’d have to have a closer look at it. I haven’t seen the TV footage which would probably give us a bit more and if there’s anything in it the citing officer will look at it but we aren’t going to jump up and down about it.
“I’m more concerned with the parity of penalties in and around the tackle area where there’s a lot of obstruction and blocking going on, which happens a lot in the game but it’s up to the team of three to deal with that. I felt we were on the wrong side of that, but there we are, that’s the way it goes and on another night we’ll get that.”