Jonathan Davies: Ospreys forwards can lay platform for success

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The Heineken Cup can bring a heavy dose of realism to any team who are fancying their chances after a good start to the season and one side certainly on top of their form are the Neath-Swansea Ospreys, who extended their winning run with victory over Leinster on Friday night.

The Heineken Cup can bring a heavy dose of realism to any team who are fancying their chances after a good start to the season and one side certainly on top of their form are the Neath-Swansea Ospreys, who extended their winning run with victory over Leinster on Friday night.

They are the only unbeaten team left in Britain and Ireland and have been playing vigorous and attractive rugby. But Europe represents a big step up in class and they could hardly have a tougher beginning to the tournament than an away fixture at Castres.

The French team are playing exceptionally well and are very strong up front. They are one of my favourites to win the pool but if the Ospreys' forwards can compete they will be a threat to anyone.

They've under-achieved since Wales turned to regional rugby but some very astute recruitment during the summer has spruced up a squad that now looks capable of achievement.

The Ospreys were particularly clever and quick in snapping up some excellent players after the sad demise of the Celtic Warriors. The locks Brent Cockbain and Ryan Jones and centres David Bishop and Sonny Parker are among the newcomers who have strengthened the team.

At the same time, the outside-half Gavin Henson has blossomed into the most outstanding player in Wales and, although you wouldn't have thought so on Friday night, numbers great goal-kicking among his talents. His partnership with the scrum-half Jason Spice is a tremendous asset to the Ospreys.

Like all the home teams next weekend, Castres will be under pressure, for they know that the loss of a home game is usually fatal. In favour of both teams is the lack of form of the other two in Pool Four, Harlequins and Munster.

Perhaps Quins will find the change to Heineken Cup action a relief from their struggles in the Zurich Premiership. They certainly have the players and the ability to produce a shock at Munster, who are also having a sorry time and look tired and jaded.

Those other old European hands, Llanelli, are another faltering team and their home match against Toulouse looks loaded with problems for them. Toulouse are clear favourites to go through as the other two in Pool Three are Glasgow and Northampton - neither of whom are flourishing at the moment.

Llanelli might do well against them but against the French team I just can't see them snapping out of their slump. And if they lose, the team who have carried the Welsh flag in Europe for the last five years or so are as good as gone.

Whatever group the Italian sides Treviso and Calvisano had been drawn in they would have been up against it but they've happened to pull two of the toughest.

Treviso are in with Leinster, Bath and Bourgoin. Calvisano have Leicester, Wasps and Biarritz. What makes it worse is that the competition in each group is so strong they may well be decided on points difference and that means that the prize could go to whoever hammers the Italians hardest.

For Leicester, this means that they have to massacre Calvisano by a cricket score on Saturday to stock up points that may come in useful later.

The same fate faces Treviso, who are home to Leinster, whose earlier problem was that they missed their international players and although they have them back now I'm not sure they are match fit or blended into the team.

Bath's home game with Bourgoin is sure to be a good one. Bourgoin are difficult to beat at home but their away form will have to be spot-on as Bath are in excellent shape.

Pool Five looks another difficult one to assess. Perpignan are playing very well and Edinburgh can't be looking forward to travelling there although the Scottish side usually manage to lift themselves for Europe.

Newport-Gwent Dragons, another side who have fed well off the Warriors' carcass, give us the only Wales v England clash of the weekend when they play home to Newcastle so that should make for interesting comparisons.

Ulster's meeting with Cardiff brings together two sides in search of themselves. Ulster are playing a one-dimensional game at the moment and I feel that keeping it tight up front and relying on David Humphreys' kicking is not going to win many games in the Celtic League, never mind the Heineken Cup.

This might be Cardiff's chance to hit form. They've been missing the creativity of the Robinson brothers. But whoever wins this battle at Ravenhill is not likely to trouble either of the other two in Pool Six. Stade Français and Gloucester, who meet in Paris, are contenders for the top spot.

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