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How Ospreys defied odds to reach URC play-offs

Ospreys duo Dewi Lake and Jac Morgan were Wales co-captains at the 2023 World Cup
Ospreys duo Dewi Lake and Jac Morgan were Wales co-captains at the 2023 World Cup [Huw Evans Picture Agency]

Defying the odds is just what the Ospreys have done this season.

Not many gave them a chance of reaching the United Rugby Championship (URC) play-offs going into the final weekend of regular matches.

Going into round 18, at one point the official league website actually gave Ospreys just a 2% probability, before it rose to 5%, of finishing in the top eight.

You can understand why as as the Welsh side were in 11th place with their destiny firmly in the hands of others.

But after rivals Connacht, Lions and Edinburgh opened the door by all losing, a bonus-point 33-29 win over Cardiff at Judgement Day saw Ospreys rise three places and squeeze into eighth to grab a trip to Munster next Friday night.

So did even head coach Toby Booth think this was possible?

"I am an optimist, so yes," said Booth. "We just keep finding a way."

That has become the Booth mantra this season. Finding a way. You have heard him say it so often this season it could become a meme, or you half expect Ospreys to use the slogan on some summer merchandise.

It encapsulates what Ospreys have managed to achieve, having emerged as the shining light in a gloomy season for Welsh professional domestic rugby.

Their 14 victories in the URC and European competition means they have won more games than Cardiff, Scarlets and Dragons put together.

"We are trying to be a top-eight team, we are going to try and keep looking up rather than being happy with being the best of the rest," said Booth.

"People think I am mad when I say that, that it's going to get tougher with the money being reduced again next season, but we have kept trying to beat the odds.

"Now the stats mean we have become a top-eight team for the first time since I've been here, and that's a credit to everyone involved.

"We've moved the dial a bit and we know progress in sport is very difficult.

"It's a rough journey and there are plenty of reasons why not, but we have found enough throughout the season. It's a reward for how competitive we have been."

'Sport is hard, sport is cruel'

Ospreys players and squad celebrate victory at the Cardiff City Stadium
Ospreys celebrate victory at the Cardiff City Stadium [Huw Evans Picture Agency]

The opportunity seemed to have vanished when Ospreys suffered consecutive 60-point defeats against Leinster and Bulls.

With two games remaining, Ospreys had to beat Dragons and Cardiff with bonus points and hope other results went their way.

That is what occurred as Ospreys became the first Welsh side to qualify for the play-offs in six years thanks to 10 league wins in 18 games.

"Pride is the biggest thing I felt afterwards," said Booth.

"We wanted to earn some respect and we seem to have done that.

"It's progress first and foremost, double-figure wins in the league.

"You have to celebrate every little victory because it puts energy in the tank."

Booth has developed a unique culture in his squad since he arrived in 2020, and the supporters have connected with him.

"We are a tight group, we do it for each other," said Booth. "That probably encapsulates what we are all about.

"We set out on a mission to play a brand of rugby people will hopefully enjoy. We said we would reflect the work ethic of the people we represent and grow our own players. I think we have done that.

"Sport is hard, sport is cruel, you don't always get what you deserve.

"If you work hard enough for long enough you will keep loading the dice in your favour and give yourself a chance.

"We have done that well this year."

Awards night on hold as Munster await

Reigning champions and top of the league Munster await at Thomond Park next Friday night, with Booth revealing Sunday's scheduled awards dinner has been postponed.

"We know it's really difficult, but when it gets to knock-out rugby, it's about who delivers on the day," said Booth.

“Munster are the best team in the competition. I know Leinster would dispute that, but they have finished top and they are the defending champions.

"So, factually, it’s right. There is a reason first plays eighth in the play-offs.

"We will give it a go and are looking forward to it.

"You would rather be in it than not and we are just enjoying the ride."