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Last Updated: Monday, 28 March, 2005, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
How good are the Ospreys?
By Sean Davies
BBC Sport

The Neath-Swansea Ospreys have been the surprise package of this season's Celtic League, and cruised to their first title with two weeks of the season to spare.

What are the team's strengths and weaknesses, and can they build from this season to become a major European force?

FRONT ROW

Ospreys captain Barry Williams
The platform for the Ospreys' game is laid by a bulky, mobile and uncompromising front row, spearheaded by skipper Barry Williams.

The Lions hooker is week-in, week-out the most effective No 2 in Wales, but back-up is lacking, with Huw Bennett a perennial on the injury list and Mefin Davies allowed to transfer to Gloucester.

Alongside Williams are Wales' hair-bear props Duncan Jones and Adam Jones, and in reserve outstanding youngster Paul James and Andy Millward - the sort of gnarled, hard-scrummaging, unreformed tight-head that every club should have on their books.

Verdict: Few teams will get any change from the Ospreys' front three, but they need depth at hooker

SECOND ROW

Brent Cockbain
Wales lock Brent Cockbain provides a hardened, street-wise edge to the Ospreys pack.

Alongside him, Andy Newman is a formidable presence who offers the experience of a Heineken Cup winner, although doubts continue to be raised about his mobility.

Lyndon Bateman has developed, whilst Jonathan Thomas provides cover from the back row, but injuries and international calls can stretch the Ospreys' resources.

They are known to be interested in unsettled Dragons and Wales lock Luke Charteris, who could be a real force in their pack.

Verdict: The front-line locks have a heavy work-load, the recruitment of Charteris would be a real statement of intent

BACK ROW

Ryan Jones
The balance in the Ospreys' youthful back row is enough to have students of equilibrium purring with delight.

Openside Richie Pugh has the pace, awareness and in-your-face aggression of a young Neil Back, but the tyro has been overshadowed by the emergence of Ryan Jones.

The ex-Warriors No 8's power from the base of the scrum has catapulted him into the Wales team and he will develop in coming seasons.

His work rate for the Ospreys has freed blindside Jonathan Thomas to do what he does best - range around the field, punch holes in the opposition defence and create havoc at the line-out.

There is admirable back-up in the squad from Steve Tandy, Nathan Bonner-Evans, James Bater and Andy Lloyd, with the latter two themselves banging on the door of Wales selection.

Verdict: An embarrassment of wealth in the Ospreys back row

HALF-BACK

Jason Spice
The recruitment of New Zealand scrum-half Jason Spice was controversial, meaning that Welsh international Andy Williams was frozen out of the squad.

But Spice has livened up the Ospreys' back-line, bringing nous and a winner's attitude, whilst youngsters Richie Rees and Rhodri Wells are hugely promising back-up players.

At fly-half Gavin Henson can be outstanding, but the multi-talented youngster is also the Ospreys' best full-back and has been mainly used in his Wales position of inside centre.

Matthew Jones is developing quickly and should be the long-term answer, but Shaun Connor has not quite been able to deliver.

Verdict: There will be a lot of responsibility on Matthew Jones next season, whilst Spice's fitness is vital

CENTRE

Gavin Henson
Sonny Parker was superb at the start of the season, powerful in defence, inspirational in attack, but his neck injury ruled him out of the title drive.

His partnership with star-man Gavin Henson is thrilling for fans of the Ospreys and Wales.

Brothers David and Andrew Bishop have bundle-loads of potential, but are not yet the finished article, whilst Dave Tiueti and Elvis Seveali'i provide solid if uninspirational back-up.

Verdict: Parker and Henson will continue to shine

WING

Shane Williams
Shane Williams' form continues to be inspirational, but regular wing partner Stefan Terblanche missed a lot of the season with a broken foot.

The return of Jonny Vaughton to west Glamorgan will be a big boost for next season, joining Richard Vaughan and Aled Brew as youthful, talented back-up.

Verdict: The youngsters will push the world-class Williams and Terblanche

FULL-BACK

Adrian Durston
Adrian Durston has enjoyed one of his better first-class seasons.

Durston was once seen as the 'next big thing' in Wales, but too often his spectacular side-step was the only weapon in his armoury.

This season, he has been a real attacking force and has added consistency to his game.

The emergence of Brew, Vaughan and Vaughton could allow Terblanche to challenge for the 15 jersey next season.

Verdict: Durston needs to maintain his form of 2004/5

COACH

Ospreys coach Lyn Jones
Lyn Jones has long been regarded as one of the most vibrant and creative coaches in Wales.

In previous campaigns his sides have started brightly, only to struggle as the opposition work out his tricks.

But with the regional side's resources behind him, Jones has sustained his vision for the season.

Verdict: Has shown the nous to lead his side to big victories in the league - can he do the same in Europe next year?

VERDICT

The Ospreys profited from last summer's demise of the Celtic Warriors, picking up quality personnel in key positions to emerge as a real force in the Celtic League.

The squad have gelled and evolved, and are set to build on their runaway league success with a strong challenge in the Heineken Cup next season.

There are stong foundations being laid in west Glamorgan ahead of next season's move to the new stadium at Morfa, and they seem to have the resources and will for a summer recruitment drive.

With some strengthening in key areas, the Ospreys are well set to emerge as a powerhouse of the European game.




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SEE ALSO
Transfer talk - Welsh regions
11 Mar 05 |  Welsh



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