“You’ve got to draw the line in the sand”

Allen Clarke says he’s looking forward to pre-season and “putting the pieces together” after the current campaign ended in disappointment with defeat to Ulster at Kingspan Stadium on Sunday.

Despite starting brightly and leading through an Alun Wyn Jones try, converted by Dan Biggar, going into the final five minutes of the first half, it was Ulster who led at the break.

They never relinquished that lead as they took full advantage of Ospreys mistakes to secure what was, in the end, a comfortable win that ensured it was the Irish province who took the final Champions Cup spot for next season.

Clarke, who was appointed head coach at the Ospreys last month, acknowledged that inaccuracies and ill discipline had proven costly and he pulled no punches in his analysis of the performance.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to Ulster but we’ve got to look at ourselves” said Clarke after the final whistle.

“At 7-0, as much as I respect how Ulster played, we are extremely disappointed with our inaccuracies and ill discipline today. We were in a really good space in the middle of the first half but we didn’t kick on.

“That probably reflects our season. We were chasing things after an uncomfortable start, but we’ve been on a bit of a roll and today we are hugely disappointed.

“We had built momentum, there’s no doubt about that, and we came here today with an expectation to win. We believed in the team, that we could go out and deliver.

“We feel we let ourselves down and we let our supporters down today. They just want to see people giving their all and we spoke about that before hand. As much as we want to win for ourselves we want to win for the Ospreys supporters.

“Every team needs good support in the tough times and this has been a tough season. There are aspects of our game where we need to improve, quite clearly, and now is the time to reflect on those, then come in for pre-season refreshed and ready to work hard.”

The five minute spell either side of half-time proved crucial as Ulster pounced on Ospreys errors to turn the scoreboard around in their favour and Clarke conceded that his side had been architects of their own misfortune.

“We made it easy for them” he continued.

“We need to reflect on our error count and ill discipline. We were 40 per cent turnover compared to their 18. Our accuracy wasn’t where it needed to be and it’s hugely frustrating because at 7-0 we looked really good then we conceded a soft try and we lose our way.

“At the start of the second half, to get up from a scrum and find yourself having to go back behind your posts off your feed is hugely disappointing. A great conversion from the touchline and all of a sudden it’s a two score game where we’d been looking pretty comfortable.

“We didn’t deserve to be in the contest at the back end. We were in the contest in the first half but we handed momentum to the opposition.

“We do have work to do, to improve key aspects of our game, ball retention, our shape, just do the simple things well. There’s a core of a really good squad at the Ospreys, quality players, it’s about putting the pieces together and doing the simple things well. Ulster didn’t do anything fantastic today. They challenged us at the breakdown, they played with momentum and they kept their line speed up in defence. We didn’t deal with that.”

Looking ahead to next season, Clarke was excited about welcoming new faces to the Liberty Stadium as he prepares for his first pre-season as head coach of the Ospreys, plotting a way forward for the Region. He continued:

“In terms of going forward you’ve got to draw the line in the sand. I think everybody needs some reflection time, including myself, to ensure we come back in on the 18th June ready to go and start building positively, one day at a time, to start the season positively instead of chasing it at the back end.”

“We’ll address certain aspects of how we play. We have adjusted things over the last three months but we’ll kick on now over the summer in terms of how we go about our business.

“I’m thoroughly looking forward to it. Our focus for next season has to be the PRO14, get to the knockout stages and qualify for the Champions Cup through the front door, through our domestic league, and see how far we can go in the Challenge Cup.

“We all saw the euphoria around Cardiff winning the Challenge Cup, there are quality teams in that competition next season, we’ll want to see how far we can go in that.

“We are rebuilding and resetting our squad, there are changes happening, a number of people moving on, people coming in. It’s important to thank those who are going for their services, they’ve had better days as an Osprey, undoubtedly, but we recognise their efforts. There’s a lot to look forward to but it’s essential that in pre-season we are able to build momentum from the start, enjoy all aspects of our work to be the best professionals we can be day in, day out.”