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TITLE HOPES SLIP AWAY IN SWANSEA

OSPREYS: 24 GUNNERS: 17



Not having had the misfortune to witness this game, either in person or via one form of media or another, it is difficult to give marks for artistic impression.  However, it's pretty clear from reports emanating from South Wales that there would not be too many on the go on Sunday afternoon. 

Inspired by Gavin Henson's resurgent tan, the champion Ospreys held off a late Gunners fightback to run out 24-17 victors, having enjoyed a comfortable 24-3 lead at one point in the second period.  At least tries by Webster and Jorgensen secured a losing bonus point; yet it is now pretty clear that the title is outwith Edinburgh's grasp this season, as coach Blackadder conceded after no-side.

There were mitigating factors.  Chris Paterson's bout of 'flu meant that Ander Monro had to be flown in as a late replacement, with Mike Pyke, The Cantering Canuck, taking the skipper's place on the wing.  Yet title contenders should be able to cope with such disruption, as indeed a severely understrength Gunners did against a Cardiff side that is in better form than the Ospreys.  

This column is always banging on about how the contenders in this league will win their home games and at least half of their away trips.  But it does look like that will be the case this year, with the title now seemingly Ulster's to lose. 

The Gunners have made progress this term, with two fine wins in Wales thus far, and a defeat of Leinster in Dublin.  At home, they have been strong.  But they are not quite there yet.  Yes, the narrow home losses against fellow challengers Munster and Ulster have hurt them - particularly as they could just as easily have prevailed in both.  But it is probably losing at the Liberty Stadium, Glasgow, and the Reivers that have been the biggest blows to their hopes.  Champions grind out wins in these games.

All is not lost, though, and a place in the top three is still within their sights if they can recapture their earlier form.  That has to be the target for the rest of the season. 

GUNNERS: Hugo; Michael Pyke, Marcus Di Rollo, Peter Jorgensen, Simon Webster; Phil Godman, Mike Blair; Allan Jacobsen, Dougie Hall, Craig Smith, Alastair Kellock, Scott Murray, Matt Mustchin, Allister Hogg, David Callam
Substitutes: Andrew Kelly (for Hall, 73mins), David Hewett (for Jacobsen, 41mins), Dave Duley, Alan MacDonald (for Mustchin, 59mins), Rory Lawson (for Blair, 73mins), Duncan Hodge (for Di Rollo, 73mins), Ander Monro

OSPREYS: Stefan Terblanche; Richard Mustoe, Sonny Parker, Gavin Henson, Shane Williams; Shaun Connor, Jason Spice; Duncan Jones (captain), Huw Bennett, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans, Des Dillon, Richie Pugh, Jonathan Thomas
Substitutes: Richard Hibbard, Cai Griffiths, Lyndon Bateman, James Bater, Martin Roberts, Matthew Jones, Leigh Davies

Referee: David Keane (Ireland)