Ospreys interim coach Allen Clarke had admitted he is realistic about the region’s chances of getting back into the European Champions Cup.
The Southern Kings of South Africa visit the Liberty Stadium on Friday night with the Ospreys back in sixth place in Conference A of the Guinness Pro14, eight points behind the fourth-placed Cardiff Blues.
Only the top three from each conference automatically qualify for the Champions Cup, but with the South African sides not involved in that process, it is the Blues the Ospreys are chasing.
Current Blues backs coach Matt Sherratt may have faith in the Ospreys’ turning things around – having confirmed his switch from the Blues to the Ospreys at the end of this season – but Clarke, who has stepped in to replace sacked Steve Tandy, is more circumspect.
“There has been plenty of positivity around the place this week, but with the realism of where we are at the moment and what we need to do if we want to qualify for the Champions Cup next season,” said Clarke.
“These next three weekends are crucial for us, with back to back home games before we go to Zebre at the start of next month. Our focus is fully on delivering the best performances and outcomes that we can, before we re-group and take stock of our position for the final push.”
Last weekend’s defeat at Connacht left the Ospreys one place off the bottom and was their 10th defeat in just 14 league matches.
But with back-to-back games at home against the South African provinces, the Kings and the Cheetahs, followed by a trip to bottom placed Zebre, there is still a chance the Ospreys can put pressure on the sides above them, including the Blues.
Clarke added: There were positive signs in Connacht last week. We played the game with the right intent, but failed to make the most of the possession and territory that we had, hence the disappointing outcome on the night.
“We want to approach the game against Southern Kings with a similar outlook, but knowing that we must finish off the opportunities we create.”
The Ospreys will have Wales’ Six Nations squad members Owen Watkin, Adam Beard and Justin Tipuric in their starting XV, with Nicky Smith among the replacements. Wales Under 20 skipper Will Jones, who this month signed his first senior contract at the region, is among the replacements.
There is a first Pro14 start on the wing for Dewi Cross and despite a lengthy injury list and international calls there are still 11 capped players in the Ospreys’ match-day 23.
If the Ospreys are having a bad season, then the Kings are living the stuff of nightmares. The Port Elizabeth-based side have lost all 14 matches so far, by an average margin of 25 points.
The Kings line-up shows just one change to the team thrashed 59-10 to Irish side Ulster last weekend.
Left wing Anthony Volmink is replaced by Michael Makase with the remaining members of the team all offered another chance to show what they are capable of.
Ospreys: Dan Evans, Jeff Hassler, Kieron Fonotia, Owen Watkin, Dewi Cross, Sam Davies, Tom Habberfield; Rhodri Jones, Sam Parry, Ma’afu Fia, Adam Beard, James King, Olly Cracknell, Justin Tipuric, Rob McCusker (capt).
Replacements: Scott Otten, Nicky Smith, Dmitri Arhip, Guy Mercer, Will Jones, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Luke Price, Hanno Dirksen.
Southern Kings: MBanda; Y Penxe, B Klaasen, L Vulindlu, M Makase; M du Toit, R Gouws; S Ferreira, M Willemse (capt), P Scholtz, S Greeff, B de Wee, A Ntsila, M Burger, R Lerm.
Replacements: S Coetsee, J Smith, L Pupuma, J van Vuuren, E Bredenkamp, G Masimla, B Janse van Rensberg, H Klaasen.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ire) Assistants: Stuart Gaffkin, Richard Kerr TMO: Simon McDowell.