Ospreys lost in interpretation

Gloucester 23 Ospreys 7
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The Independent Online

The West Country club have decided to do a spot of rebranding of their own and no longer want to be referred to as the Cherry and Whites. This is deemed to be a touch too soft in the professional age and one of the possible alternatives is the Gloucester Lions. What is wrong with just Gloucester, or "Glawster", as they are described at Kingsholm? Once upon a time they were called the Elver Eaters but that is now probably politically incorrect, to the eaten as well as the eaters.

Yesterday the Osprey-catchers opened their group with a comfortable enough victory by two goals and three penalties to a goal although the dominant figure was the referee, Roy Maybank, who blew the Welsh region off the park.

"I can't talk about that," Lyn Jones, the Ospreys coach said. "He called it as he saw it. Our line-out fell apart and we got punished. We've got to get our first phase sorted out."

The Ospreys - the Christian names of Neath and Swansea have been dropped - were without their injured Lions Gavin Henson, Shane Williams and Ryan Jones and have been finding their defence of the Celtic League, which was won so impressively last season, a torrid business.

The four Welsh regions are obliged to take the new competition seriously. When they signed up in the summer, the Scots and Irish teams in the Celtic League threatened to go it alone and Wales' representatives only got back in after some serious grovelling.

Is the Powergen Cup a tournament too many? The sponsors cleverly included a Heineken Cup place as one of the rewards and even though Leicester, the current Premiership leaders, were not up for it on a rainy night at Rodney Parade on Friday when they were beaten by the Newport-Gwent Dragons, the players here gave a damn. Unfortunately, they failed to rise to an occasion that will take time to find its feet.

Whether the public has been treated with enough consideration is another matter. Season-ticket holders have not been rewarded for their investment and loyalty and yesterday they had to fork out extra to watch the Powergen Cup. This, and the fact that the match was televised by the BBC limited the attendance.

This is not the only thing the organisers should address. A Welsh region has enough to contend with playing in England without having to interpret an English referee. The Ospreys were behind from the opening seconds when Ludovic Mercier's kick-off was dropped by Jason Spice. From the scrum Mercier went on the loop, almost crab-like, and his inside pass enabled James Simpson-Daniel to easily wrongfoot the Ospreys' defence.

Taking advantage of a strong wind, Mercier thumped over a penalty to make it 10-0 before the Ospreys got their only catch of the day, the open-side flanker Steve Tandy going over after a couple of dangerous incursions by Spice. Trailing 10-7 midway through the first half, the Ospreys were to discover that their hunting ground ceased to exist.

After Matthew Jones failed with a rare shot at goal - the penalty count was ludicrously in favour of Gloucester - Mercier was on target to make it 13-7, but then missed with two more attempts just before half-time. He missed again early in the second half, this time against the wind, but by this stage the home side were winning so many decisions he had to land one, if only through the law of averages.

The Ospreys became disoriented and after their wing Richard Mustoe was sent to the sin-bin, the Cherry and Whites (for old time's sake) put everybody out of their misery with their second try.

Simpson-Daniel showed a touch of class, opening up a path with a little chip inside the Ospreys' 22 for Henry Paul to gather and crash over the line. As he did so he had a defender beneath him who appeared to prevent the centre from grounding the ball. Mr Maybank called for the assistance of the video official and the try was awarded.

The Ospreys had been unable to exploit the wind because either they could not get the ball or when they did it was too slow or they mishandled. At the death, Leigh Davies opened up the Gloucester midfield and, with a clear overlap on the right flank, Mustoe scored. Except that Sonny Parker's final pass was adjudged forward and the try was disallowed.

Mustoe, a broken wing, was the Ospreys' metaphor. "We're very happy," Mike Tindall, the Gloucester captain, said. "We're four games away from the final and this is a good way to get into Europe."

Gloucester: J Goodridge; J Simpson-Daniel, M Tindall (capt), H Paul, M Foster; L Mercier, H Thomas; N Wood (T Sigley, 63), M Davies, G Powell, A Eustace, A Brown, J Boer (M Cornwell, 80), J Forrester (L Narraway, 76), A Hazell.

Ospreys: S Connor; R Mustoe, S Parker, L Davies, J Vaughton (A Bishop, 14); M Jones, J Spice (R Wells, 74); D Jones (P James, 62), B Williams (capt; H Bennett, 71) A Jones (A Millward, 51), B Cockbain (I Evans, 71), A Newman, L Bateman, L Beach, S Tandy (R Pugh, 62).

Referee: R Maybank (Kent).