Tom Vickers’ Ospreys v Northampton Saints review and player ratings

LEADING FROM THE FRONT - Salesi Ma'afu, Dylan Hartley and Alex Waller bullied Ospreys (Picture: Linda Dawson)
LEADING FROM THE FRONT - Salesi Ma'afu, Dylan Hartley and Alex Waller bullied Ospreys (Picture: Linda Dawson)
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A slim chance of progression and a stadium with little atmosphere can be a dangerous proposition.

Just ask the Saints of January, 2012, who headed to Glasgow’s Scotstoun knowing they needed to at least win to stand any chance of progressing to the Heineken Cup last eight.

On that occasion, Jim Mallinder’s men played a fast and loose game, gunning for the four-try bonus point from the off.

Eventually, though, they paid the price for their unlimited adventure, losing with the last play of the game as Glasgow Warriors’ Peter Horne danced in for a fatal try.

Saints lost the game, their hopes of participation in any European competition in tatters.

Their ambition was to be applauded, but the way they applied themselves was perhaps slightly unstructured and they struggled to turn possession into points.

Not on Sunday in Swansea, though.

Saints were methodical, shooting down the Ospreys with a display that never really allowed the opposition the sort of sniff Glasgow were given.

Metronome Stephen Myler kept the scoreboard ticking over before George North, George Pisi and Glenn Dickson got over the line after the break.

Ospreys responded, as you would expect most home teams in the Heineken Cup to, but they never looked likely to claim a win.

For the second time in Pool 1, they had given Northampton a game, but found themselves at arm’s length throughout it.

This Saints team allies belief with strength on the road, and Sunday’s display showed how far they had come since the Scotstoun suffering.

The fact they are unlikely to make it through to the Heineken Cup last eight is a let-off for the teams who do.

Because Saints, who would be on the road in the quarter-finals should Ospreys spring the biggest of surprises in Dublin and Castres capitulate in Northampton on Friday, can beat anyone on their travels on their day.

Just ask Saracens, after last May’s Premiership play-off semi-final.

Ask Leinster, after that Aviva Stadium stunner.

And ask this Ospreys team, who, despite only having claimed five points in the pool, are no mugs. They are third in the RaboDirect PRO12 and have a number of Lions in their squad.

It will be a great shame that this Saints team will not be able to show what they can do in the latter stages of the competition.

But, if as expected they don’t make it, they cannot blame anyone other than themselves, after two defeats from the first three games.

The Castres loss always looked likely to be costly, while the defeat to Leinster at the Gardens seemed to be a knock-out blow.

That is wasn’t at the time is credit to this Saints team, who have rebuilt to great effect since that night at the Gardens, winning their next five games.

Sunday’s success was earned through desire and a determination not to go quietly in Europe this season.

Skipper Dylan Hartley drove his players on. There was a dollop of determination put into every ruck.

The visiting forwards bossed proceeedings, taking Ospreys to task in the scrum, giving the ever-impressive backline the chance to pounce.

And pounce they did, with North lighting up the encounter, giving those fans who did take the plunge and make it to the Liberty Stadium a moment to savour.

The travelling Saints fans had earned it, and the Wales star continues on his steep upward curve.

Three tries in three games show his worth, but that record doesn’t fully illustrate the contribution of a player who has catalysed his new team’s development.

This breed of Saints are learning quickly and the past year has seen a real progression.

They might not get to cap that as Heineken Cup champions, but don’t bet against them lifting a different type of European trophy this season.

How they rated...

TOM COLLINS

Was withdrawn due to injury at half-time, but had acquitted himself well to that point, dealing with a barrage of high balls... 6

JAMIE ELLIOTT

Didn’t get too many chances to get into the game, but, like Collins, dealt with the high balls well when they came... 6

GEORGE PISI

Showed plenty of flair and skill in the first half, twisting and turning to gain ground for Saints and put the finishing touches to a try near the end... 7

LUTHER BURRELL

Another strong performance from the centre, who helped create Pisi’s try and was also big in defence... 8

GEORGE NORTH

Another game, another moment of North magic. The Wales wing scored a stunning try, running from inside his own half and adding some much-needed spark... 8

STEPHEN MYLER

Only missed two kicks, hitting the upright with one of his conversions, and again kept his team ticking over, providing the bullets for a backline... 7

KAHN FOTUALI’I

Good work to set up North’s try. The scrum-half was eventually withdrawn after an impressive display against his former employers... 7

ALEX WALLER

Showed plenty of aggression to bite back at the Ospreys pack and played his part in a big forward effort that saw plenty of scrum dominance... 7

DYLAN HARTLEY - CHRON STAR MAN

The captain maintained his high standards and drove the team on. Made one great saving tackle on Richard Fussell to prevent a try and lineouts were spot on again... 8

SALESI MA’AFU

A huge weapon in the scrum and will have been satisfied to see Ospreys loosehead Ryan Bevington sent to the bin after a huge Saints scrum... 7

COURTNEY LAWES

Teamed up with ‘Bruise Brother’ Samu Manoa to make some shuddering hits, but dropped a couple of passes he’d usually hold... 6

CHRISTIAN DAY

Was sent to the bin with Saints under pressure, but otherwise did okay to help Saints to a good win... 6

CALUM CLARK

Summed up Saints’ determination with an early chargedown and was again a big presence in another win... 7

TOM WOOD

Forced off late on with injury, but had done his job, playing his part in a good effort from the Saints pack... 7

SAMU MANOA

Made some big hits and was typically imposing but was unable to stop a clever dart from Webb, who scored... 6

Replacements (who played longer than 20 minutes)

FA’ATOINA AUTAGAVAIA (for Collins 40)

Got his first lengthy run-out for Saints and didn’t look out of place. Showed a willingness to kick and field the high ball, which is clearly one of his strong points... 6

TOM MERCEY (for Ma’afu 52)

Helped Saints continue their scrum dominance and didn’t do too much wrong as he freshened things up... 6

LEE DICKSON (for Fotuali’i 56)

Always a useful player to bring off the bench as he played his part in upping the tempo, with Saints eventually getting into their stride... 6