The Ospreys secured a record breaking fourth league title on an incredible afternoon at the RDS Showground in Dublin.
It was the stuff of dreams as Shane Williams marked his last ever Ospreys game with two tries, including a dramatic score with just three minutes remaining, allowing Dan Biggar to slot over the winning kick from the touchline.
Ashley Beck also scored a try, with Biggar kicking 16 points in total, sparking delirious scenes of celebration.
The Ospreys had the kick-off, Dan Biggar putting the ball deep into Leinster territory and in a fierce opening the hosts had to fight through multiple phases to edge their way back into the opposition half, eventually winning a penalty for Ospreys players going off their feet, and with it the chance to take the lead after three minutes. Jonny Sexton’s radar clearly wasn’t working though as his early attempt screwed horrendously wide.
Instead, it was the boot of Biggar that notched the first points of the day eight minutes in, the Ospreys fly-half making no mistake from close to the left hand touchline after Leo Cullen was pinged for going off his feet.
It was a short-lived lead though, Sexton levelling just a couple of minutes later after referee Romain Poite has penalised an Osprey at a defensive ruck.
The wide-held belief before the game was that the scrum was clearly going to be a major weapon for the Ospreys and the first set-piece 14 minutes in went their way, Monsieur Poite penalising Leinster. Unsurprisingly the Ospreys opted for the reset and as the white eight rumbled forward the secrum went down and after a delay, Leinster tighthead Mike Ross was forced out of the action early with an injury. As the majority of the sell-out RDS crowd held their breath, as the two packs went straight down next time around, the decision was penalty to Leinster, Paul James accused of bringing it down.
There was a real struggle for supremacy but slowly Leinster seemed to be getting the upperhand at the midway point of the first half but a stray pass in midfield allowed Andrew Bishop to scoop up the ball on his own 22 and race upfield. It looked for a moment as though he was going to go all the way under the posts but with Leinster’s cover getting back he fed the supporting Rhys Webb who was held up just short. As Leinster looked to spoil, the penalty went the Ospreys way, allowing Biggar a simple kick from in front of the posts to give his team the lead once again.
In the scorching Dublin sun at every stoppage there were bodies strewn across the field, but it was Leinster who regrouped to get the first try on 26 minutes through hooker Sean Cronin, giving them the lead for the first time. The try stemmed from poor Ospreys control at the scrum which led to them losing possession deep inside their own half. The hosts sensed blood and after pulling the defence right and then left, skipper Brian O’Driscoll straightened up to take the ball to the line, drawing the tackle before offloading to Cronin for the score, Sexton adding the extras.
A penalty against replacement prop Nathan White at the scrum allowed Biggar to bring his team back to within a point in the 34th minute. The response from Leinster was clinical, wing Isa Nacewa collecting Sexton’s restart wide on the left and racing through unchecked to score a try converted by the Irish fly-half.
A typical Hanno Dirksen charge then took the Ospreys close to the Leinster line, the visitors eventually awarded a penalty just metres out. They opted for the scrum, and although it may not have been pretty it was certainly effective as the Ospreys looked to turn the screw. After a number of collapses, the referee issued a team warning before showing a yellow card to Heinke Van Der Merwe. Tempers were getting frayed, in the stands and on the field, as the penalties continued coming with the clock showing time, but unbelievably, after minutes of penalties going the way of the Ospreys, and the visiting players urging the ref to award a penalty try the final, crucial, decision went the way of the defending team – and by the celebrations, you would have thought that Leinster had just won the game as Sexton put the ball out of play to bring the first half to an end.
HALF-TIME: LEINSTER 17 OSPREYS 9
The Ospreys needed a positive start to the second half and they began in a determined fashion, Richard Hibbard, Andrew Bishop and Ryan Jones all helping to take them back upfield from Sexton’s restart, Bishop in particular making good ground before Joe Bearman offloaded to Ashley Beck who was able to cross the line, grounding the ball despite the last-ditch efforts of Sexton, the TMO confirming a try. Biggar’s conversion meant that the Leinster lead had been cut to a solitary point just two minutes after the restart.
Once again though Leinster were able to hit straight back as Sexton took them back to four points clear after indiscipline from Webb saw a Leinster lineout changed to a penalty in kickable range.
The Ospreys were playing with a bit more spark about them, and only a crunching hit from Nacewa halted Dirksen’s progress up the right as he looked to finish off a flowing move.
Despite the positive start from the region, Leinster were able to stretch their lead through another Sexton penalty in the 52nd minute after hands in the ruck from skipper Alun Wyn Jones.
A great Leinster kick chase saw the Ospreys under real pressure, turning the ball over which allowed the Irish side to attack at pace, freeing Nacewa on the left. He went for the line and looked certain to score in the corner, only for a tremendous last ditch tackle from Biggar to force him into touch just centimetres from the line.
A dramatic afternoon took another turn on the hour mark when Shane Williams marked his final Ospreys appearance with a try in the corner, confirmed by the TMO, to round off a flowing move that had seen the forwards displaying great skills, Ian Evans and Alun Wyn Jones in particular showing great handling. Biggar was off target with the conversion attempt, his first miss of the day, leaving the score at 23-21 to Leinster.
It was turning into an incredible tussle, and just five minutes later it was Leinster who were celebrating after Nacewa’s second touchdown of the game, the winger handily placed to pounce on a loose ball just metres out and scamper over after the Leinster pack had rumbled forward some 15m.
Sexton’s conversion meant the Ospreys trailed by nine with 10 minutes left but they weren’t finished. A penalty at the scrum allowed Biggar to take his team to back within a converted try, before Williams duly delivered in his own inimitable style, squirming over in the corner, the TMO once again confirming the score to reduce the deficit to just one point.
Biggar displayed nerves of steel to slot over the winning kick, and although Leinster threw everything at the Ospreys in the closing seconds the defence held firm to secure a historic win and a fantastic night of celebrations in Dublin.