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With all the hard work done, Steve Tandy’s Ospreys side can go to Newcastle and relax knowing that wing, lose or draw they will have a home draw in the quarter-finals.
Exactly who they will meet at the Liberty Stadium in the last eight will only be determined on Sunday, with Welsh rivals Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons and Harlequins in the mix for the three runners-up places.
The Ospreys ran in seven tries when the two teams met in Round 1, Keelan Giles scoring two late tries to round off the win after earlier tries from Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Ashley Beck, Scott Baldwin and Justin Tipuric in a 45-0 win. That was the first of five successive try bonus points in Pool 2 that have earned them 25 points to date – more than any other team in both European tournaments.
Wales scrum half Rhys Webb could make his return from injury as part of the matchday 23 to give his chances of pushing for British & Irish Lions honours during the RBS 6 Nations a boost. But the tournament’s leading try scorer, 18-year-old Keelan Giles, will miss the game due to a hamstring injury.
Having seen his side score an average of seven tries per game in their previous five pool outings, Ospreys forwards coach Chris Gibbes insists there will be no thoughts of taking it easy at Kingston Park with nothing other than a record 30 points to aim at.
“We’ve looked at Newcastle and have good momentum at home and I’m sure they are going to want to continue that. They will play with width and that is going to bode for a good game,” said Gibbes.
“We aren’t losing sight of this game – the fact we have qualified is irrelevant. The job isn’t done yet and we need to finish this European pool campaign on a positive note.
“We are all about consistency, putting in the hard work and turning up well prepared. I love the work ethic of the players and what the jersey means to them and this is a team on the up.”
With 11 points to their credit to date in Pool 2 there is no chance of the Falcons flying into the quarter-finals so director of rugby Dean Richards is likely to once again blood his young talent. There were 15 academy graduates in his matchday 23 in Grenoble in Round 5 for the 31-27 defeat at Stade des Alpes.
“There were lots of positives within the game but we were disappointed with the way in which we lost it at the end. The boys sat there in the changing room contemplating why,” said Richards.
“But it is a learning curve for a lot of these boys. That’s the way of the world and it’s what you take out of these situations that matters.”
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The Ospreys created European club rugby history when they became the first to finish the group stages with a maximum 30 points – but they had to come back from 14 points adrift to beat Newcastle Falcons 26-21 at Kingston Park.
That made it six of the very best out of six in the Challenge Cup for the Welsh club – though this time they had to wait until the 70th minute to bank all five points with Scott Otten getting the vital fourth try and finally killing off the Falcons’ faint hopes.
And Steve Tandy's men did it with 43 tries in all of their Pool 2 contests as they claimed the No 1 seeds spot for the quarter-finals in real style.
The old mark of 29 points in the group stages had been a joint affair, Gloucester Rugby and Stade Francais Paris both achieving that twice while Worcester Warriors, London Irish, Northampton Saints and Bath Rugby all went within a point of the maximum in the Challenge Cup. In the European Cup, the only team to reach 29 points was Biarritz Olympique in 2006/07.
But back to the present and the Falcons, who finished their campaign with just two wins, made the Ospreys work hard for that 30 points record and led 21-7 at the break, despite the Ospreys flying out of the blocks – and no-one flying quicker than Rhys Webb.
The Wales scrum half, playing his first match since October following injury, needed just four minutes of his return to scamper over for the first try, Sam Davies converting.
But the Falcons came back with the perfect response, back rower Dan Temm tearing over for a try that Craig Willis converted to even matters up in a whirlwind opening.
Kieron Fonotia initiated an Ospreys charge and his team-mates carried it on until another knock on spoilt the opportunity against an albeit aggressive Falcons defence.
And that was rewarded when, after a series of pick and drives, temporary replacement Rob Vickers was credited with the score, Willis adding the conversion.
Scrum half Micky Young then created the opening with a chip kick that Chris Harris raced onto and Willis made it three from three from the tee to open up a 14-points advantage that held until the break.
Dan Evans tried to get the Ospreys going again soon after the restart with a superb break but an attempted long pass from Webb to Dafydd Howells did not go to hand and the chance was lost.
It took 15 minutes of the second period for the first points, wing Hanno
Dirksen notching up his 150th point for the Ospreys with a try in the corner that went unconverted to leave them nine points adrift.
But that did not last long as outside half Davies converted his own try with the simple conversion from in front of the posts and than adding the extra points to hooker Scott Otten’s try that earned them the try bonus point – yet again – and a place in the European rugby record books.