A brace of first half tries from Nikki Walker helps the Ospreys to a New Years Day victory over Cardiff Blues at the Liberty Stadium.
Captain Ryan Jones crossed the whitewash in the second half, while Dan Biggar contributed 11 points with the boot as the Ospreys defence held firm in wintry conditions to ‘nil’ their opponents and move back to the top of the Magners League table.
It was the Blues who came out firing, and the Ospreys were forced onto the back foot in the opening stages as the visitors looked to impose themselves on the game. However, having soaked up the early pressure without too much difficulty, it was the hosts who were the first to register on the score board through the boot of Biggar with 11 minutes gone, the fly-half taking advantage of a Ben Blair knock-on just inside the 22 to drop a goal from in front of the posts.
Blair had an instant chance to respond after an indiscretion in the scrum, but his effort from near the touchline drifted to the right. A stop-start game was being dominated by the referee’s whistle, with little flowing rugby possible, but after Biggar missed with a long range kick after Sam Norton-Knight was penalised for not rolling away, the Ospreys extended their lead midway through the first period through Walker’s first try. It was a Biggar up and under that caused problems for the Blues defence, Blair bring caught in possession as he took the high ball on the 22. A trio of Ospreys pounced on the fullback to drive him backward, Bishop smuggling the ball away and the ball was spread wide quickly to Scottish winger Walker who had an easy run-in to score, Biggar missing the conversion.
With the snow falling heavily over the Liberty Stadium, the Blues were forced into a change in midfield at the half hour mark, Gareth Thomas replacing Tom Shanklin, but before the visitors had a chance to reorganise the Ospreys had scored again. Ricky Januarie supplied quick ball from the scrum for Biggar who made a great burst through the Blues defence before the ball was worked swiftly along the line to Walker out wide, who went over in the corner for his second try of the evening, the angle once again proving too much for Biggar.
As half-time approached, the Blues again enjoyed a spell of considerable possession and territory, but continuously opted to ignore the overlap to the right, constantly coming back inside. When the ball was finally worked wide to former Osprey Richard Mustoe, the defence had regrouped and was able to marshall the winger into touch a metre short to ensure their line remained intact at the interval.
HALF TIME: OSPREYS 13 CARDIFF BLUES 0
Biggar extended his side’s lead in the opening minute of the second half, slotting over a penalty from close to the 22 after the Blues were penalised for not rolling away in the tackle, but Blair was unable to provide an instant reply, his long range penalty a minute later striking the upright.
Referee James Jones had become increasingly frustrated by offences at the scrum, and his patience finally snapped 10 minutes after the restart when he yellow carded Blues tighthead Gary Powell, Biggar successfully kicking the resultant penalty to make it 19-0.
Huw Bennett and Cai Griffiths replaced Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones for the Ospreys, before a huge charge up the middle by Andrew Bishop, driven forward by his pack almost 20metres was finally held up on the line as the Ospreys looked to kill the game off once and for all. The third try duly arrived shortly after through Ryan Jones as the Ospreys capitalised on Blues indiscipline, taking a quick free kick instead of opting for a scrum and spreading it to the corner where skipper Jones went over, the TMO confirming the try. Biggar’s successful conversion made it 26-0 to the Ospreys ahead of Powell’s return to the pitch.
Ian Evans and Jamie Nutbrown were introduced in place of Ian Gough and Januarie, while the Blues were forced to reshuffle after losing both of their flankers, hooker Gareth Williams coming on to allow Rhys Thomas to move from the front row to the back row.
Lee Byrne had to be alert to cover at the expense of a line-out in the corner as Paul Tito and Jerry Collins chased a chip through, but the Ospreys line remained unbreached through a combination of good defence and unforced errors from the visitors, most notably a Norton-Knight penalty to touch that was kicked dead, resulting in an Ospreys drop-out.
The snow returned with a vengeance to welcome Filo Tiatia onto the field in place of fellow Kiwi Jerry Collins, as the Blues sent on Gareth Cooper and Ceri Sweeney. With the home win secured, the final minutes were played out without much shape or pattern to the game as the Blues slung the ball about looking for non-existent gaps, but the Ospreys defence was able to comfortably play out the closing stages without too many concerns to ensure an emphatic 26-0 win.