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Shane Williams column: Ospreys pack must deliver carnage over Christmas

If I was Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric or any of the senior Ospreys forwards, I’d be licking my lips at what’s on the menu this Christmas.

Outside of Test rugby, the period of festive derbies is my favourite time of the year and the 2018 fixtures are huge for all four Welsh regions, but especially my former team.

The Ospreys must target three wins out of three and I think that’s a more than realistic goal. Just look at the fixtures. Allen Clarke’s side host the Scarlets, visit the struggling Dragons, and then go back to the Liberty Stadium to meet Cardiff Blues.

The games have definitely worked in their favour and they simply must make the most of that because at this time of the season, momentum is absolutely vital. If they do that, they will have a real springboard to go into 2019 and hopefully reach the play-offs.

Of course facing the Scarlets is the toughest of those three matches for the Ospreys, but I think they’re more than capable of revenge after being beaten in Llanelli earlier in the season.

When I look at the Scarlets, they’re not the same beast they were last year and if I were still in the Ospreys set-up I know exactly where I’d target them – up front. This is where the likes of Alun Wyn, Justin and Adam Beard come in.

The Scarlets are there to be got at I think. Part of the reason why they haven’t quite hit the heights of last season is down to injuries. They’ve been unfortunate in that regard, but that’s not the whole story. The other aspect to consider is their loss of Tadhg Beirne and injuries to some of their key ball carriers.

I don’t feel they have the same forward ballast this year.  Beirne is a phenomenal player who was always going to be a big miss following his move to Munster, but I think losing Scottish back row stalwart John Barclay was a huge blow too.

He did a lot of unheralded work on the blindside flank, fetching and carrying and smashing himself into brick walls to help get his team get repeatedly over the gain line.

Add in the injury issues to the likes of Rob Evans and Samson Lee and this is why I think the Scarlets have struggled. They haven’t been able to muster the same go-forward momentum this season.

Absent: Scarlets prop Rob Evans could return from an ankle injury. Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

That in turn means the likes of James Davies – who has also been injured – don’t have the same joy at the breakdown and the quick ball the Scarlets backs thrive on can’t be delivered.

I think a lot of teams have worked the Scarlets out and I’m sure the Ospreys will have done their homework on them for Saturday’s game.

The last time these two teams met in Llanelli, the Scarlets were comfortable winners. I expect it to be a lot closer this time.

The Ospreys will be at full strength, having rested their key players for the Challenge Cup trip to Stade Francais. Alun and Justin will be firing on all cylinders and Adam will hope to continue his superb form from Wales’ November series.

In the backs, Aled Davies will have something to prove again up against namesake and former team-mate Gareth. Then there is George North and Scott Williams.

I’ve seen on Instagram they’ve both been on holiday in the snow with their partners this last week!

Whatever they’ve been up to, I hope no accidents are involved because if the Ospreys pack gets on top, they should thrive behind the scrum.

Allen’s game plan for the Scarlets should involve a lot of early tactical kicking, tight line-out drives, and one-out carries.

What the Ospreys must not do is fall into the trap of playing too much rugby too early and without the right forward platform. That’s what the Scarlets have done this season.

Of course Wayne Pivac’s side have hardly become a bad team overnight, but their arrival at the Liberty Stadium is a chance for the Ospreys to reassert their authority.

Now it’s time for them to deliver.

SHANE WILLIAMS

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