Dai Howells – Ospreys Preview

Guinness PRO12 Editor

1 Aug 2012



Dai Howells, 26, has been an Osprey ever since the team was formed because, despite being born and raised in the Rhondda, his Dad is an Ogmore boy, so he had to follow.

Ospreys showed at the end of last season that once wage caps and player exoduses are set aside, all that really matters is a certain 80 minutes. Despite having done the double over Leinster earlier in the season, Ospreys headed to the RDS as firm underdogs, facing the mighty European champions that had secured victory in the Heineken Cup just a week before with a comfortable win over Ulster. Under the Irish sun, however, in eerily familiar circumstances, Shane Williams scored in the death and Dan Biggar converted, stealing yet another one point victory over the Boys in Blue.

Which leads us into the 2012/13 season, with Steve Tandy’s men fighting not just to retain the title but also their record as being the only team to win it four times. There’s also much to look forward to. Tandy may still be reasonably new to the role as head coach, but at the end of last season, after just a few matches in charge, he lead the team to an impressive run of victories, which culminated in the historic RDS triumph. Now, following a summer at the helm, Tandy can make good on this development and (as many are hoping, at least) show it was no fluke.

The greatest importance, however, will fall on the men in black, with this season being an incredibly important one for many of them.

Spartan man-mountain Adam Jones, for example, is celebrating his testimonial year. More importantly, he’s also showing the form of his career that can give any other tight head on the planet a run for his money. Elsewhere in the scrum, season captain Alun Wyn Jones packs down alongside Lions team-mate Ryan Jones, giving experience and guile to what is arguably the most formidable 1 to 8 in the entire competition.

It’s not all about the older heads, however, as last season saw the young blood show they’re willing to fight hard for their place.

All eyes may have been on the wings when looking for signs of weakness, after Tommy Bowe left for pastures familiar and Shane Williams did the exact opposite. However, with wing-wizard Hanno Dirksen finding his feet (not to mention flair – see the award-winning try against Edinburgh for proof), any gaps may be closed up sooner than some expect.

Furthermore, with Wales U20s firecracker Eli Walker covering the left wing, Ospreys may well have the speed, power and flair to sufficiently replace the two leavers.

Then, of course, there’s Justin Tipuric, the openside flanker who’s not just knocking on the door for the coveted Wales number 7 jersey but blowing the thing off its hinges. Last season he was clinical, disruptive and aggressive at the breakdown, while displaying an increasingly sensible approach to open play.

Keeping everything ticking over, however, is kicking maestro Dan Biggar. The 23-year old (23?!) has racked up a staggering – not to mention record-breaking – 1022 points for the region in 104 appearances. It’s a statistic you’d think was made up if you’d not seen him in the flesh, kicking them over with the unflinching accuracy of The Terminator.

On this evidence, 2012/13 should be a good year for Ospreys. Could they really make it five? You’d be brave to bet against them.

Best addition to your side: Keeping hold of Hanno Dirksen this summer could pay dividends for the season ahead.
Opening day prediction: A win in Italy should start the boys off right – 21 – 12 to the visitors.

Overall season predictions: A Play-Off place is a must-have, and there’s every reason Ospreys could make it five, they seem to know no fear.

Other predictions: The Scottish teams are going to do well this year and could pull out a few big surprises. Leinster is still a force to be reckoned with, though. Alex Cuthbert – provided he continues on his current trajectory – could well be the leading tryscorer, by a good margin. Perennial goal-botherer Biggar for overall points scorer.

Who’s going to win the RaboDirect PRO12: This year seems like it could be wide open, with plenty of teams hoping for a top four finish. I wouldn’t be an Ospreylian, however, if I didn’t say the boys in black are going to go on to win.