Ryan Jones, the Wales captain, has called the next fortnight "crunch time" in the Ospreys' bid to become the first Welsh winners of the Heineken Cup. A victory away at Clermont Auvergne today, followed by another against the English champions Leicester at the Liberty Stadium next week would guarantee the Ospreys a home quarter-final in Europe's top club competition.
A run of five successive wins, plus a little bit of local knowledge from Jerry Collins, the former All Blacks loose-forward who arrived in Swansea this year following a spell in France, has filled the squad with confidence ahead of their trip across the English Channel. Jones said: "We've worked hard to put ourselves in a good position after four rounds of the tournament, but this is where the hard work really starts.
"If we don't hit the right performance levels in the final two fixtures this month, then the results we secured in October and December won't count for anything. "We go out to Clermont, knowing that we have to be professional out there and do our job properly to ensure that we bring something back with us. If we can do that, it will then set up the Leicester game to be something special." Saracens' European Challenge Cup credentials were bolstered by victory over Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon side at Vicarage Road on Thursday night.
The Hertfordshire club are also riding high in the English Premiership. According their director of rugby, Brendan Venter, their transformation this term has been brought about by the fine form of the oft-maligned England captain, Steve Borthwick, the Saracens lock. He said: "We are a good rugby side because of Steve Borthwick. Steve is everything I want in a captain. If you want a Courtney Lawes [the Northampton Saints lock who could displace Borthwick in the England side for the Six Nations] running with the ball, dummying, catching and passing that is something different.Every single game Steve is either the top contributor or second - and from a lock, it is amazing.
"In our last game against Leicester he made nine more contributions than anybody in the team and he only played 70 minutes. I texted him and said 'Amazing'." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org