Wales hooker Richard Hibbard says Ospreys’ RaboDirect Pro12 title bid is being driven by a wish to send try machine Shane Williams and his soon-to-depart team-mates out on a high.
Former IRB world player of the year Williams could be set for his Liberty Stadium farewell tomorrow night when Ospreys host Munster in their league semi-final and with Ireland wing Tommy Bowe as well as a few more poised to leave at the end of the season, Hibbard wants to give thedeparting players an exit to remember.
“We haven’t had the best press since last season really. We’ve lost ourcoaches, there’s a lot of bodies moving on and it’s the start of a new era next year,” Hibbard told the Irish Examiner in an interview arranged by league sponsors RaboDirect.
“For myself and the other boys who’ll still be here, we want to win for our coaches that have gone and the players that are leaving so they leave the Ospreys on a high.”
Hibbard has seen director of rugby Scott Johnson and head coach Sean Holley leave the Welsh region midway through the season following adisappointing exit from Europe at the pool stage and the hooker admitted the players had struggled in the vacuum before incoming head coach Steve Tandy began to turn things around.
“We hadn’t been able to create any momentum, especially during theinternational periods, and that’s been our own undoing because of thedevelopment skills (for producing Test players) we have here. Then all the news came out that the coaches and a lot of players were leaving and it knocked us for six.
“We’ve some good young players, new young coaches and everything’s looking positive at the moment. So there’s a lot to look forward to but the lads that are here really want to send the boys that are leaving off on a high with a win.”
Hibbard recognises that any victory will have to come the hard way as Ospreys prepare to face Munster for the eighth time since the start of last season. Tomorrow night’s game also represents the third year in a row his team has played an Irish province in the league knockout stages having beaten Leinster in the final two years ago at the RDS and lost to eventual winners Munster in last season’s semi-final.
“It always seems to be Munster or Leinster,” Hibbard said. “But that’s the thing, now we both know how each other plays, so there’s no surprises really. We know it’s going to be tough and we just have to stick to what we’ve been doing the last few weeks and keep the momentum up.
Recent history is on the Ospreys’ side after the Welsh outfit completed a league double over Munster this season, shading it in Limerick in October by four points before edging home in December by six.
“We play them so much we knew what to expect and it wasn’t as intimidating an experience as it usually is. We’re used to Thomond Park but we knew what to expect which is big because when you play Munster there you are playing against 16 men really, 15 on the park and the fans.
It was Hibbard’s late try in Dublin on March 3 that sealed a 23-22 win over Leinster at the RDS and kick-started a five-match unbeaten run that saw the Ospreys cement second place in the league and earn this weekend’s home semi-final berth.
The Welsh hooker is expecting an equally tight, forward-oriented battle in Swansea against Munster: “I think it’s going to come down to which ever forward pack gets on top and if we can get it right and get our centres into the game they can set up the running lines for our wings.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved