Jonathan Davies: Henson hand fiasco highlights a soft centre

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The Independent Online

The Ospreys didn't suffer from the absence of Gavin Henson but for all the impressive style and finishing power they showed in beating Ulster 48-17 on Friday night, their chances of catching Gloucester are not encouraging.

Gloucester's victory at Bourgoin puts them five points ahead in Pool Two and I fear that the Ospreys will end up kicking themselves for the opportunities they bungled in their earlier Heineken Cup matches.

They had Gloucester on toast at Kingsholm but through a lack of footballing sense and poor tactical kicking, threw victory away. They then proceeded to miss picking up a bonus point in their home match with Bourgoin. Those lost points look like being very costly and it all adds up to a very depressing time for the Neath-Swansea side.

Undoubtedly the best equipped Welsh regional side with a lovely new stadium, the Magners League champions are falling well short of expectations and the poor attendance of just over 8,000 at the Liberty Stadium on Friday reflects the frustration of their followers.

Henson is part of that under-achievement. He has been back playing but he hasn't been back playing well, and neither have the Ospreys back line as a whole. Their forwards are powerful and dynamic and they have three Kiwis who are playing out of their skin. The scrum-half Justin Marshall has reacted to the challenge of Mike Phillips by upping his game to a new level. Filo Tiatia is a terrific ball carrier and Marty Holah the best open-side flanker in the world apart from the man who keeps him out the All Blacks, Richie McCaw.

And with young Welsh locks Alun-Wyn Jones and Ian Evans performing so excitingly, there's no one they should be frightened of in a one-off encounter. Yet when it comes to the crunch they cannot deliver. Against Gloucester particularly, their game management was at fault and their kicking game I found impossible to understand. I don't think they understand it either.

Henson has a great boot but he and James Hook can't seem to utilise their talents to clinch a game their team is dominating. Hook runs across the field too much and with his team-mates not running the right angles, they haven't been clinical enough in their finishing. They looked much sharper on Friday but that was mainly due to Ulster, who were rudderless, without organisation or passion and a shadow of the team they were a year or so ago.

The Henson train incident last week just adds to the mystery. I can't fathom why he was allowed to travel home from London under his own steam, especially if he had injured his hand. This period is one of the most important few weeks of the domestic season and as a key player he should have been cocooned with his team-mates and with his hand in ice.

It is another example of the soft culture that Welsh rugby is suffering from. I don't mean on the field, I mean off it and the fault stretches to the very top. Too many players have no competition for their places and there is no respect or fear of the administration at national or regional level. I hope the strong taskmaster influence of Warren Gatland can start to put it right.

Meanwhile, the Ospreys' slim hopes of qualifying depend on gaining victories and bonus points from visits to Ulster and Bourgoin and then beating Gloucester and getting a bonus point in the final match at home.

Before then, Gloucester play Ulster and Bourgoin at home and I can't see them not taking maximum points out of both. I suppose the Ospreys might make the last eight as a best runner-up but they'll have to solve their problems before facing a big task like that.

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