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Ulster v Ospreys: Steve Tandy hoping Australian trip will pay dividends

Guinness Pro12 League: Friday 4 September, 7.35pm, Kingspan

By Michael Sadlier

What better way to put the bitter disappointment of last season behind you than by just getting away from it all?

For Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy, the season-ending bump in the road was particularly hard to digest after losing 21-18 to Munster in last May's PRO12 semi-final at Thomond Park, when Josh Matavesi's last-minute try was ruled out after referee Nigel Owens went upstairs to the TMO.

It was no way for the Welsh region's first semi-final since 2012 to end but that's what happened, so Tandy jumped on a plane and made his way to Australia and New Zealand.

But the coach wasn't heading off for a break. Instead, he got on the plane with fellow Ospreys coaches Gruff Rees and Tom Smith.

The idea? To visit Super Rugby finalists the Hurricanes and NRL team Melbourne Storm, as well as taking in some AFL set-ups, to observe and absorb anything which could be brought back to the Ospreys environment.

"If you come home from a trip like this with one thing that will enable you to freshen up the environment, then it is beneficial," said the affable Tandy, who badly wants to topple current champions Glasgow Warriors.

Mind you, losing a dozen front-liners to World Cup duties - with Wales obviously taking the biggest cut, and Canada and Fiji also having claims - is hardly conducive to hitting the ground running but then the Ospreys are hardly alone in this regard.

Still, Tandy is confident that he still possesses sufficient strength in depth, even with much emphasis being on youth, to launch a meaningful PRO12 challenge during the World Cup window.

He has already had to dip into the market for available props after tight-head Daniel Suter's injury with Oliver Tomaszczyk being brought in on a short-term cover deal from Newcastle, though he doesn't feature tonight with Dimitri Arhip starting and Cai Griffiths providing back-up.

The coach has certainly raised eyebrows by allowing winger Eli Walker to sit out tonight's opener which, of course, means that the jettisoned Wales winger will not come up against his nemesis Andrew Trimble, the man who poleaxed him in the World Cup warm-up game with Ireland.

Instead, the Ospreys coach has decided to largely make do with the side which beat Saracens in their pre-season outing with veteran Joe Bearman brought in at flanker and Tom Grabham on the left wing.

Second row De Kock Steenkamp makes his long-awaited competitive debut after an 11-month lay-off due to a torn Achilles' tendon while at No 8 Gareth Delve also makes his league bow.

Tom Habberfield and Sam Davies are the unfamiliar names at half-back, though both still have a sizeable body of work behind them while up front, the side is skippered by second row Lloyd Ashley.

"It's no secret that we've got a young group," said Tandy. "But we've been able to add some experience over the summer.

"It (playing in Belfast) can be a real test of character so we need to be sure that we are 100 per cent switched on."

We'll soon see if his trip Down Under has had any immediate benefits.

Belfast Telegraph


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