Ospreys 21 Cardiff Blues 21
It finished all square in the Welsh derby between the Ospreys and Cardiff Blues at the Liberty Stadium this evening as the two rivals had to settle for two points apiece.
The game was very much a tale of two kickers, Dan Parks scoring all of the Blues 21 points while Dan Biggar kicked 18 for the Ospreys, the remaining three coming from a James Hook drop goal.
An early penalty against the Blues for collapsing the scrum gave Biggar the chance to give his side the lead, the fly-half having the confidence to go for a huge kick from inside his own half that just about had the legs to go the distance.
The decision went the other way at the next scrum a couple of minutes later, but Dan Parks screwed his effort wide of the posts from the 10m line, just to the right of the sticks.
While the opening stages were evenly balanced, it was proving something of a lottery in the front row with the next scrum reset on three occasions before eventually seeing a penalty awarded to the Ospreys after a huge drive from the eight forwards in black, the opposition set-piece disintegrating to huge cheers from the Liberty Stadium crowd.
The hadn’t been much open play to get the crowd excited in the first 15 minutes, but a quick tap free-kick from Rhys Webb got them off their seats as he carried from the Ospreys 22 into the Blues half, Martyn Williams eventually killing his opponents progress illegally, Biggar making it 6-0.
Buoyed by this, the Ospreys almost worked a try minutes later after Biggar charged down a Parks kick. Justin Tipuric, James Hook, Nikki Walker and Richard Fussell all had a go for the line, but the Blues eventually managed to regroup in defence and crowd them out.
However, it was just a couple of minutes before the Ospreys did stretch their lead following another penalty at the scrum. Biggar stayed calm despite referee Christophe Berdos counting him down through his allotted 60 seconds for the kick as the ball twice fell off his tee, Adam Jones eventually lending a helping hand to steady the ball for Biggar to slot over from close to the right hand touchline.
The Blues spurned another opportunity to get themselves on the scoreboard, with 24 minutes on the clock, Leigh Halfpenny pushing his effort across the face of the posts after the referee had spotted an Ospreys hand interfering with the ball at a ruck.
From the restart, a powerful run from Xavier Rush, shrugging off some lightweight Ospreys tackling, took the Blues back into Ospreys territory, and they were rewarded with their first points of the game, Parks slotting over a simple drop goal from in front of the posts as the referee played advantage against Ryan Jones.
Blues tails were up, and first of all Webb had to be alert to deal with a Dan Fish chip and chase on the Ospreys line, before a prolonged spell of pressure from the visitors saw them going through 10 phases, the pressure eventually resulting in a penalty for offside, Parks cutting the deficit to just three points.
A penalty against Jamie Roberts for not rolling away allowed Biggar another long-range effort, but this time his radar was slightly off and it drifted to the right.
Strong running from James Hook took the Ospreys back into the Blues 22, and although the Blues were able to slow the ball down and win the turnover, loose play from Casey Laulala handed the momentum back to his opponents, Paul James and Jerry Collins both carrying strongly towards the line, and only foul play from Bradley Davies was able to prevent the try. Biggar helped himself to another three points as the Wales second row was sent to the bin.
It was nip and tuck stuff, and the Blues were able to hit straight back through Parks after Alun Wyn Jones was pinged at the breakdown with just two minutes remaining in the first period.
The Ospreys still managed to end the half positively though, the Blues making a mess of gathering the restart, allowing Biggar to slot over a drop goal with the last kick of the 40.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 15 CARDIFF BLUES 9
The Ospreys came racing out of the blocks from the first whistle, some good juggling from Alun Wyn Jones securing the ball at the restart, and good hands creating an opportunity for Hook to run at the defence. When his progress was halted the ball was effectively recycled and it was Hook himself who popped up in the pocket to slot over a drop goal to take the lead back up to nine points.
However, another Parks penalty, after Ian Evans was pinged in the tackle area, ensured that the visitors were able to stay in touch.
Buoyed by the score the Blues, clad in pink, were able to keep up the pressure on the Ospreys, helped by overhit kicks from Webb and Hook that went out on the full. A period of sustained pressure eventually told, Collins penalised for not releasing in the tackle, an offence that saw him yellowed. Parks duly rubbed salt in the wounds by cutting the deficit back to three points with 50 played.
It was a real duel between the international fly-halfs, and a Blues offside allowed Biggar to take nudge the Ospreys further ahead.
Ian Gough was the next player to be pinged at the ruck, Parks making no mistake to take hi, and the Blues, tally up to 18.
As the game reached the hour mark, Monsieur Berdos called the two captains together to warn them about the ill discipline that was spoiling the game, following illegal hands in the ruck by the Blues on halfway, a penalty that was just too far for Biggar.
The Blues were able to level things in the 68th minute, Parks successful with his second drop goal, from close range, after a scrum had just disintegrated in front of the Ospreys posts, the home support appealing for a knock-on by Richie Rees.
The referee then opted to go to the TMO to confirm that a long range Biggar drop-goal effort had fallen just short as he looked to edge his team ahead again.
Next it was Hook’s turn to go for goal from the 10m line, his drop goal effort drifting off target making it a straightforward decision for Monsieur Berdos on this occasion.
The Ospreys had one last throw of the dice as they looked to break the deadlock, a powerful scrum rumbling forward to give them a platform one last attack. The Blues defence did a good job at slowing things down at the breakdown, close to their line, and the Ospreys were slow recycling. As the ball bounced around at the foot of the ruck the ref ruled that the ball was out, allowing the Blues to somehow clear the lines, leaving things all square at the end.