Alun Wyn Jones says the Ospreys are up for the challenge as they prepare for a nail-biting finale to their Champions Cup Pool 2 campaign over the next two weekends.
There’s everything to play for as the Ospreys welcome Clermont Auvergne to the Liberty Stadium on Friday before travelling to Exeter nine days later, with just four points separating the French side in first place and next week’s opponents in third, with the region sandwiched in between.
Taking time out of preparing for Friday's game at Llandarcy Academy of Sport, the Ospreys captain said: “Everybody knows how important this game is, particularly with the pool being so wide open.
“While we target a win in every game you have to be pragmatic about it and to get the two points in both matches out in France means we are going into the last two rounds still in contention. Let’s be honest about it, that’s probably beyond the expectations of most people outside of the camp when we started.
“We’ve got an opportunity on Friday now to really push ourselves forward, maybe take control at the top of the group, with one more, very difficult, away trip to come the following week.
“Our sole focus this week is Clermont and doing what we’ve got to do to ensure the level of performance needed to make an impact against quality opposition who put themselves in a good position with their performance and result against Bordeaux last week.”
Last weekend saw a five game winning run in the PRO12 grind to a halt against Leinster and, while acknowledging the need for improvement this Friday night, Jones pointed to the region’s European form to date as the level the team need to reach, if not surpass, over the next two games.
“We put in some good performances in the last round of European fixtures but everybody realises that we’ve got to lift ourselves several notches above the Leinster game last week” he said.
“We have to approach it positively. I’m not saying we weren’t positive against Leinster but for all the possession we had we struggled at times to keep the ball for long periods where it really mattered.
“It’s a long time since we’ve reached this stage of European competition and still had a realistic opportunity to go through from the pool. The manner of how we’ve gone about our business in Europe this season, some of the performances we’ve put in, is a huge positive, and we’ve got to do the same again this week.
“In recent years by Round 5 we’ve been out of contention. There are probably people who feel that’s the case this year looking at the two fixtures we’ve got coming up, we’re realistic enough to recognise that, but we know and understand what we have to do.”
Jones also paid tribute to the loyal Ospreys supporters who have made their presence felt at home and away in European competition once again this season, highlighting the need to give them their reward for the constant backing they provide the team:
“There’s a hard core of supporters who will be with us on Friday night, who are there through thick and thin for the Ospreys, and we will be going out there to give them something back," he added.
"We are always looking to represent them as best we can, to live the values of this team, and I think they recognise in our European campaign that we are doing just that. That needs to keep being the case, starting on Friday night.”