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By Shane Williams
Last week was a fantastic one for the Ospreys, and one thing is for sure – they’ve now got no excuses not to perform next season. After an abysmal campaign at the Liberty Stadium and so much uncertainty over what is going on at the region, the signing of George North and Allen Clarke’s appointment as permanent head coach has given Swansea fans something to cheer about at last.
It’s funny how quickly things can change and I really do believe there should be cause for optimism for next season, especially when you look at the talent which will be in the Ospreys squad.
Let’s not beat around the bush, things can’t really get much worse for the Ospreys than they have been this term, so the only way is up. But all of a sudden, there is a feel-good factor around the place and much of that seems to be down to George.
I really believe George can go on to do some special things in an Ospreys shirt, From my point of view, all I hope is he goes on to become the region’s second highest try-scorer and not the first! George’s name has been bouncing around all four regions since it was announced he was coming back to Wales in January and I’m sure he’ll be delighted finally to have got his future sorted.
From the Ospreys’ point of view, it’s a huge coup and it’s amazing how one man can change the perception of a whole club. When you’re a world class player like George, that’s what you do.
His decision to move to the Liberty is a big statement for the region and I think he’ll fit in perfectly with his new team. I’m sure he can get back to his best there and here’s why…
If you look at the Ospreys for next season, they possess a side with what seems to me like an international standard back division. George can be the man to ignite that.
A half-back pairing of Aled and Sam Davies is a young and exciting combination, as is the pairing of Owen Watkin and Scott Williams in the centre. Then you’ve got a potential back three of George, Keelan Giles and Dan Evans; who wouldn’t want to watch that in action?
If the likes of Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric can provide a platform for them to play off, then I can see George running in tries for fun.
If that proves to be the case, it will only be of benefit to George, the Ospreys, and Wales too.
We all know George needs to play and after a tough period at Northampton Saints where he’s struggled with injury and played for a team low on confidence, this feels like a new start.
Signing a National Dual Contract means George will be managed well by the Welsh Rugby Union and I think Clarke can be the man to get him firing on all cylinders.
I’ve seen a lot of criticism on social media about Allen’s appointment, I think that’s unfair. The Ospreys said they’d scour the globe for a “world class” new head coach and the keyboard warriors believe Allen isn’t that man seeing as he was already in interim charge just down the hall.
Let me get something off my chest on this. Allen might not be a Warren Gatland or a Steve Hansen – not yet anyway – but he will do a fantastic job and I think the Ospreys have played things expertly in terms of how they’ve gone about replacing Steve Tandy.
When Steve was sacked in January, it would have been easy to rush into a quick appointment – that would have been reckless. I’m glad the Ospreys didn’t go down that route.
I know the board looked at Robbie Fleck and Filo Tiatia for the role while Jim Mallinder was also under consideration. While I’m sure all three of those guys would have done excellent jobs, I think Allen will in time prove to be a more than capable head coach.
I’ve spoken to a lot of the guys down at the Ospreys this season and they’ve reacted well to Allen, below. They like his coaching style, his methods, and the way he’s bonded with the squad. I know he’s had a positive effect on the atmosphere at Llandarcy too and more important than any of the above is the fact he’s turned results around on the field too. To a degree at least.
Of course things are far from perfect at the Ospreys right now. They’re going to have to face a play-off clash – possibly with Ulster – to see if they can play in next season’s Champions Cup.
For the Ospreys to have to go down that route is very disappointing, especially considering their history in Europe’s premier competition. Now, though, the challenge is to make sure they’re playing in it once again because guys like George must be seen at the highest level.
Only time will tell whether they make it or not, but I firmly believe the good times are on the way back at the Ospreys after a disappointing couple of years.
George will be at the heart of that because he’s the sort of player who can lift a team almost on his own. Sit back and enjoy it Ospreys fans, you’re lucky to have him!
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