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Jeff Hassler: far from toothless as Ospreys prepare to face Dragons

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: April 19, 2014

By Mark Orders

Canadian wing Jeff Hassler has enjoyed a decent start to his Ospreys career.

Canadian wing Jeff Hassler has enjoyed a decent start to his Ospreys career.

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JEFF Hassler has bared his teeth to many of the Ospreys' opponents this term, but for a few days earlier this term the Canadian wing had to make a point of walking around with his lips firmly sealed.

"I came in from training and my false tooth was missing," relates the 22-year-old from Alberta.

"It's a front tooth, so I kind of needed it.

"I went into the team room to ask where it was and everyone said somebody else had it.

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"I ended up getting the tooth back three days later."

We'll put that one down to Welsh humour, which may or may not be fully understood in North America.

But all at the Ospreys fully appreciate Hassler, one of the success stories of the season with his intense commitment and fiercely direct running.

At the Liberty eight days ago, Leinster wing Dave Kearney must have felt he was on the wrong end of a ram-raid at times as Hassler powered straight at him. And the Osprey nailed the Ireland wing four times with emphatic tackles.

The suspicion is in infants' school Hassler went straight from A to Z when learning his alphabet, cutting out the bits in between. He is a man who doesn't muck about with detours. For him it is always route one.

Where does it come from, this relentless directness? "I always played American football during my high school days," replies Hassler.

"It was just about running straight and trying to pick up three or four yards at a time.

"I have tried to transfer all that to my rugby.

"I never had any fears. I think the Ospreys saw that and wanted to bring that element into the team. I'm happy to oblige them."

There is the bonus for the Ospreys that Hassler has improved hugely as the campaign has unfolded.

He achieved a key penalty turnover last week, while Leinster players taking restarts invariably found the home left wing arriving like an inter-city express at the same time as the ball.

"I was pleased with the way it went against Leinster," he says.

"It was one of my best performances since I have been at the club, particularly given the quality of the opposition."

It's another big day tomorrow for Hassler, with the Ospreys facing the Dragons at the Millennium Stadium, a ground he hasn't played at before.

"I've been in the stadium just twice, watching matches rather than playing," says Hassler.

"For anyone who is not a Welsh international, who doesn't get to play there much, it's going to be very exciting."

The Ospreys can't allow the excitement to affect their focus, with the region needing to see off the Dragons if they are to maintain a realistic hope of finishing in the top four in the Pro12 and qualifying for the play-offs.

It probably wouldn't be too greedy for Steve Tandy's team to want to pick up a bonus point as well. In fact, it is close on a necessity for such a scenario to unfold.

But the Dragons are likely to be up for the challenge, given that Lyn Jones has told his players that all of them are playing for their futures. The last time a coach used similar words, it prompted a big reaction, with Wales beating France after capitulating in Ireland and prompting Warren Gatland to threaten dire consequences.

The challenge for the Ospreys is to match whatever pyrotechnics the Dragons come up with.

That is what good teams do. They always turn up.

They bring an attitude and an intensity to every game which makes life difficult for opponents. Physically, they set out to impose themselves, mentally they are always one step ahead, denying those facing them encouragement, with extra class doing the rest.

Understandably, Tandy displayed caution alongside Jones at the press conference to sell the game.

"It would be disrespectful to think about bonus points," he said.

"The Dragons are a tough outfit who have had some good results, especially at the start of the season, and we are thankful we are not going to Rodney Parade. It's the Millennium Stadium this week and it will be all about the win. If we can build a lead then it will be about scoring tries."

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