SAM Cross is enjoying making his autumn critics eat their words by finishing the season with a flourish at the Ospreys.

It has been a remarkable campaign for the 25-year-old from Brynmawr, who is among the replacements for the Liberty Stadium side in their Champions Cup play-off at Ulster on Sunday.

It started with him being a sevens specialist and ends with him having a pair of Wales caps and a full-time deal with the Ospreys through to 2020.

It has been a year of sporting peaks and troughs for Cross, who still has 'coming soon' rather than a picture on his profile on the club website.

After earning a chance with the Ospreys in pre-season he had to wait until October for a professional debut when flung into the deep end against Saracens.

A remarkable performance was swiftly followed by an autumn call-up from Warren Gatland with a first cap off the bench against Australia and a first start against Georgia.

Then nothing for a while.

Those that had smirked at Cross' Wales selection were given ammunition but the back rower kept his head down, grafted hard and got his reward.

He played in eight of nine games in the Ospreys' run-in with seven starts, although he has to be content with backing up the Wales trio of Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric and James King at Ravenhill this weekend.

"It's been a rollercoaster season, starting when thrown in late on against the European champions," reflected Cross. "I got the chance with Wales then slipped off the radar a bit.

"That was tough but I am happy with how I have been playing recently and I feel that I have established myself at the Ospreys.

"I've had a few people that had knocked me in the autumn messaging me to say that actually I'm not a bad player! It's nice to make people eat their words.

"It's tough to see [criticism] but I am confident in my own ability and knew that once I got an opportunity I could show people.

"Maybe they had only seen one game against Saracens, then watched me play 50 minutes in the autumn; they had made their decision on me from 40 minutes against Georgia when I was injured and five minutes against Australia.

"They had already made an opinion on me but I hope that I've changed that by showing what I can do, because I think that I've been in pretty good form for the Ospreys."

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Cross was given his first chance by old boss Steve Tandy yet it's under new head coach Allen Clarke that the former sevens specialist is thriving.

"He is letting us play heads-up rugby and giving us freedom," said Cross. "That suits me and I am enjoying it.

"I've signed until 2020 and when I spoke to 'Clarkey' he said that he rated me as a player after seeing me in training, that he knows what I can do and that I am right for the way that he wants to play rugby.

"He told me that I just need time in the saddle. He has given me those opportunities and I am getting better game on game.

"I've still not played many games of professional rugby but there is a massive difference in my confidence now to when I was thrown in at the deep end last autumn and was having to run things that I'd never seen before after playing 7s all my career."

In truth the Test call-up came too soon for Cross and such a rapid ascent had a knock-on effect.

He said: "Steve Tandy said that I had done well against Saracens and the Dragons and that it was a time where it would have been better for my development to stay and establish myself while 'Tips' and others were away with Wales.

"Instead I went with them into camp and that gave other players a chance at the Ospreys. I wasn't as established as 'Tips' to just come back and get in on merit for what I had done before.

"It was hard after being with Wales to come back wanting to play and not get picked, plus I was picking up niggles.

"I just had to dig in, get my head down, get out of the spotlight and now I am enjoying it.

"But that month with the Welsh squad was the best experience of my life and it's the pinnacle. If I can get back in there it would be great."