Ospreys 32 Northampton Saints 15: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
There may have been a big off-field change made during the week, but it was very much the same old story on the pitch for Saints on Sunday afternoon.
Once again, they lost a Champions Cup match in disappointing fashion.Once again, they struggled at scrum time.Once again, they imploded after their spirit was broken.Once again, they conceded a try bonus point to the opposition.And once again, their fans were left feeling sadness rather than satisfaction.Saints simply can't get out of this rut right now.They may have made the decision to call time on Jim Mallinder's 10-year tenure at the club on Tuesday, but it is clear there will be no quick fix.There is no plaster that can be stuck on the ever-gaping cut.All they can do is keep working and, somehow, keep believing.You can see the confidence drain out of this side in difficult situations.They did stick with it in Swansea, fighting back early in the second period.But once their line was punctured by a Rhys Webb try, the laceration was irreperable.They conceded two more tries in quick succession and, once again, the game got away from them.
The Champions Cup music has almost become an anthem for the doomed this season, with Saints losing all four games in Europe, conceding a try bonus point on each occasion.It is so tough for the green, black and gold faithful to watch.They would love to be able to get out there and help their team turn the tide.But they can't.All they can do is hope that someone comes up with the answer. And quick.Because if they don't, many more weeks of strain and pain will lie ahead.Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins will not be handing them any presents in the coming weeks.Saints will have to fight for everything they get over the festive season.And though the chances of witnessing a win currently appear as slim as meeting the real Santa Claus, everyone has to keep going.It could only take one result - a catalyst - for things to change on the field.And Saints will hope that some returning stars can provide it this week.Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood and George North were among the men missing at the Liberty Stadium.And there can be no doubting how much those players are capable of offering.So Saints badly need them back and firing against the Chiefs on Saturday.There is a chance all four could make it, with the coaches having clearly switched the focus way before the defeat in Swansea.With Champions Cup hopes having gone up in smoke during the opening three matches of the pool stages, it is clear where Saints' priorities lie.And there is no doubt that played a part on Sunday.Because Ospreys, who had won just two of their past 13 matches before beating Saints at the Gardens on December 9, were just a little bit more abrasive in everything they did.They are still in the hunt for a quarter-final spot - and it showed.Saints didn't lack commitment, but they did lack that extra edge.And at the top level, you are made to pay for that.Saints also took the option to withdraw Piers Francis and Rob Horne well before the end, a move interim boss Alan Dickens later admitted was made with Exeter in mind.That backline reshuffle, pushing Harry Mallinder to 10, didn't help.It was almost an apt end to a week when the decision to move another Mallinder from his position didn't bring instant benefits.And how Saints could do with some of those when the Chiefs come calling in Saturday's pre-Christmas encounter.How they rated...HARRY MALLINDERLooked a threat for Saints and though he spurned one chance in the first half, he made up for it with a fine finish during the second... 6AHSEE TUALADid brilliantly to create Mallinder's try, but didn't have many other opportunities as Ospreys shut down the wide channels well... 5ROB HORNEWas taken off to keep him fresh for the Exeter game and he wasn't able to have the impact in attack or defence he would have wanted, missing a few tackles... 4TOM STEPHENSONIs a threat when given space in attack, but he didn't have any of that and Ospreys try to get at him with a few shots off the ball... 4BEN FODENOne eye-catching run aside, he wasn't really able to get in the game as Saints failed to get the front-foot ball and tempo they wanted... 4PIERS FRANCISHis crossfield kick in the build-up to Mallinder's try was tidy, but some of his other kicking from hand didn't come off... 5NIC GROOMWith Ospreys stifling Saints up front, the half-backs had little chance to create and the South African couldn't shine on this occasion... 4FRANCOIS VAN WYKStruggled against Dimitri Arhip as Ospreys turned the screw in the scrum battle, forcing Saints to give away a plethora of penalties.. 4MIKE HAYWOODMade one huge hit that looked to set the tone in defence, but his team-mates couldn't carry that momentum forward... 5JAMAL FORD-ROBINSONOspreys took Saints on up front and the prop wasn't able to get the dominance he would have wanted... 4MICHAEL PATERSONWas key in the lineout, but couldn't affect the game in open play as much as he would have hoped... 4DAVID RIBBANSMade numerous tackles and tries to use his physicality to take Ospreys on, but they stood tall... 5JAMIE GIBSONCan never be accused of lacking work rate as he thundered around the pitch with and without ball in hand... 5LEWIS LUDLAMDid everything he could to make an impact, starting his second Champions Cup game in succession, and he made plenty of hits... 5TEIMANA HARRISONWas the most aggressive Saints player, scrapping for every metre, making the most carries by far... 6Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)CAMPESE MA'AFU (for Van Wyk 48)Saints needed him to come on and steady the scrum, but the game opened up a bit and it was tough going... 4PAUL HILL (for Ford-Robinson 48)Tried to add some focus and tenacity, but Ospreys were able to get their tails up and put Saints' forwards under constant pressure... 5MITCH EADIE (for Harrison 57)Was a late replacement on the bench and he put himself about when he made his way onto the field, trying to take the fight to Ospreys... 6COBUS REINACH (for Groom 57)Like Groom, he didn't have too much to work with and these were not easy conditions for the scrum-half... 5CHRON STAR MAN - Sam Davies (Ospreys)