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Chris Gibbes says his Ospreys players must step up in the absence of skipper Alun Wyn Jones when they take on Stade Francais in the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
Jones was ruled out of the quarter-final clash after injuring his shoulder during Wales’ defeat to France in the Six Nations. He is expected to be crocked for six weeks.
But Ospreys forwards coach Gibbes says the region has been boosted by the return of Wales stars Justin Tipuric, Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb, who are all set to feature at Principality Stadium on Sunday.
“It’s pretty simple – we have to replace Alun,” said Gibbes. “We prepare the boys all the way through the season and they've got to step up and fill that gap.
“It’s hard to replace a guy like Al, but we have got to do it. We’ve got class players coming back and I think they’re going to have a massive impact for us.
“They’ve got to play their part and try not to carry the team – but it’s exciting to have them back with us.”
Ospreys suffered a shock defeat to Pro12 strugglers Treviso in Italy last weekend. But the Welsh region blitzed through their Challenge Cup pool, finishing 14 points clear of Lyon with a maximum of 30 points.
Gibbes now wants Ospreys to be mentally prepared for Stade Francais, who like Treviso, are fighting near the bottom of their domestic league.
“What we learned against Treviso is that you can train the house down during the week, but if you don't mentally turn up to play, you get exposed,” he added.
“Mental preparation is key. We’ve taken a bit of a kicking and that’s hurt us. We’ve got to make sure we learn from that and see what happens next.
“The boys have got that challenge ahead of them this weekend.”
Stade arrive in the Welsh capital on the back of a morale boosting Top14 victory over European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-finalists Toulon.
Their head coach Gonzalo Quesada said: “We have already been preparing for this quarter-final for a long time, we go to Cardiff to play a big game in the European Challenge Cup.
“We can have fun trying to get to the head of the Top 14 towards the end of his season and we go to play this quarter-final in Cardiff in a good spirit.
“Against the Ospreys, it's going to be a big game, but we can afford to go there knowing that in the Top14, nothing is finished. Far from it.”
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Stade Francais survived a red card for Josaia Raisuqe to down the Ospreys 21-25 in the European Rugby Challenge Cup and set up a meeting with Bath Rugby in the competition’s semi-finals.
Raisuqe received a yellow card in either half and was promptly sent off, but it failed to stop the Parisian giants from scoring three tries on their way to victory.
Prop Zurabi Zhvania crossed for their first, and despite being a man light for most of the second half, replacement Raphael Lakafia and wing Julien Arias added further tries in the second half.
Josh Matavesi and Tyler Ardron scored the Ospreys’ tries in front of a crowd of 12,127, but Jules Plisson’s two conversions and two penalties ensured the majority of them went home disappointed.
At Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, the Ospreys, who had qualified for the quarter-finals with a perfect pool stage record of 30 points, started with a bang.
Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb and Justin Tipuric were all lively early on, the former’s penalty in the 13th minute putting the Welsh region into a 3-0 lead. The fly-half then cantered over to score a try, but it was ruled out by the TMO after Keelan Giles’ pass in the build-up was rightly adjudged forward.
It looked like it would be just a matter of time before Steve Tandy’s men stamped their mark and they were given another boost when Stade wing Raisuqe was yellow carded for foul play.
Strangely, though, their one-man deficit spurred the French raiders into life.
First, Plisson’s penalty levelled the scores and then prop Zhvania showed an impressive turn of foot to make his way to the line and dot down in the left corner.
Plisson pushed the conversion wide, before he and Biggar then exchanged further misses at goal to leave Stade ahead by just two points at the interval.
A second penalty from Plisson extended Stade’s advantage at the start of the second period.
But the Ospreys then got the try which had been coming, a lovely floated pass from Webb finding Matavesi who finished expertly in the corner. Biggar missed the conversion, but a strange game soon got even stranger as Stade went down to 14 permanently.
Biggar put the Ospreys on the front foot with another sharp break, Raisuqe receiving a second yellow card and then a red after cynically entering a ruck from the side and taking out Webb.
Biggar’s resulting penalty made it 14-11, but Stade refused to go away and two more quick tries won them the game.
Lakafia collected Plisson’s cross kick to score in the corner, then Hugh Pyle intercepted Sam Davies’ horror pass to feed Arias to dive over. Plisson converted both efforts.
Pyle looked like he was offside when intercepting, but the score was given and it left the Ospreys to chase the game.
They dominated possession late on and although replacement Ardron crossed late on for a try which Biggar converted, it was too little, too late.