Dan Lydiate will play his first game since January. Pic: Getty Images.

Ospreys Warned To Expect Early Ulster Onslaught As Europe Beckons

By Steffan Thomas

Brad Davies has warned his Ospreys players they must withstand an Ulster onslaught in their Guinness Pro 14 play-off for a European Champions spot.

The region’s defence coach believes the Irish province will try and blow the Ospreys away in the early stages when they meet at the Kingspan Stadium on Sunday.

The match will determine which team takes the final place in Europe’s premier tournament next season and Davies says it will be test of the Ospreys’ ability not so succumb under pressure.

“The first 20 minutes in most games of knockout rugby are vital in terms of the platform you can lay with and without the ball, and the tone you can set for the remainder of the match,” said the former Wasps coach.

“There are going to be moments where Ulster will have periods of sustained pressure and we will have to manage our way out of that. And when we get chances to apply pressure we need to convert them into points.

“The side that can take advantage of those moments will be the one that comes out on top.”

The Swansea-based region have endured a torrid Pro14 campaign as they finished fifth in Conference A, 19 off the tournament title play-offs.

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Ulster are set to be without influential captain Rory Best and British and Irish Lions lock Iain Henderson.

But Davis says Jono Gibbes’ side will not miss the pair as much as people expect.

“Sometimes that can be a galvaniser for the opposition when they lose a player of that influence,” he said. “Rory Best is an outstanding operator at club, international and British and Irish Lions level. It’s always a boost when someone of that calibre may not take to the park.

“In saying that, the guy they’ve got coming in as a replacement is a handy player himself. This game is not so much about the opposition we’re playing, it is about what we can deliver.

“There’s only one thing that matters for us this Sunday and that’s getting the win.”

Dan Lydiate has made a remarkable return from injury to boost the Ospreys. The Wales and British & Irish Lions star has been missing since suffering a bicep injury in January and wasn’t expected to return this season.

But the 30-year-old has returned for the biggest Ospreys game of the season as they look to maintain their place in European rugby’s premier club competition.

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Dan Evans is ruled out by a foot injury, meaning Sam Davies features at full-back and is joined in the back three by Jeff Hassler and Hanno Dirksen. Ashley Beck and Dan Biggar will make their final appearances for the Ospreys before joining Worcester and Northampton respectively. Inside centre Owen Watkin and scrum half Tom Habberfield make up the back division.

Up-front Nicky Smith, Scott Otten and Dimitri Arhip form a powerful scrummaging front-row and are supported at lock by Bradley Davies and skipper Alun Wyn Jones. And Lydiate is joined in the back-row by Justin Tipuric and James King.

“It’s a big game, no doubt, and there is a prize for both sides at the end of it,” said Ospreys head coach Allen Clarke.

“Both teams want to be playing in the Champions Cup next season.

“You earn the right to play in the elite competition and, for ourselves and Ulster, it all comes down to this one game. As a collective, we’ve had to work hard to put ourselves into a position where we are one win away from qualification.

“We’ve come from somewhere where absolutely nobody would have backed us to get through, after we lost in Connacht in February, and we did that by digging in, staying tight as a team and working hard together to put together a run of results that has put us where we are.

“Ulster are a very good team and they will have home advantage but our preparation, our focus, has been all about us and that will be the case again for 80 minutes on Sunday.”

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Meanwhile, Northampton are in “open discussions” with George North’s representatives to end his Saints contract early ahead of Wales’ summer tour.

North and Gloucester back-row forward Ross Moriarty, who are both returning to Wales to join the Ospreys and Dragons respectively this summer, will tour.

Their clash against South Africa in Washington DC on June 2 falls outside World Rugby’s Test window, and England-based players have not been made available by Premiership Rugby.

A Northampton spokesperson said: “We are in open discussions to end his contract with Saints early in order to enable him to tour with Wales this summer.”


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