The Ospreys made it six wins from six against Welsh opposition this season with Judgement Day victory over Cardiff Blues at the Millennium Stadium.
After the Scarlets had picked up a win – without the bonus point – earlier in the afternoon, the Ospreys went into the game knowing exactly what they needed to do to retain fourth place; any kind of win would keep them ahead of their local rivals in the race for the play-offs.
It was the Blues who struck first though, a try from Halfpenny in the sixth minute after a counter attack from inside their own half. The initial break came from Gavin Evans, after the Blues skipper had received what looked like a forward pass in midfield, but the centre carried well before linking with Harry Robinson, the wing feeding Halfpenny who eluded Justin Tipuric’s last gasp tackle to score before converting his own touchdown.
The response from the Ospreys was a positive one, Dan Biggar slotting over a penalty from straight in front of the posts after Filo Paulo came into the ruck from the side.
The restart from Rhys Patchell went straight into touch, and after the Ospreys opted for a scrum on halfway a powerful shove from the black pack was rewarded with a penalty, but Biggar’s long-range effort drifted to the left of the posts.
The first quarter was a physical affair with neither side able to gain control, but the Ospreys went ahead on exactly 20 minutes with a well-worked score.
Spratt provided the spark in midfield, taking his team close to the Blues line. After it had been efficiently recycled it was spun out wide to the left where the Ospreys had an extra man, James King ignoring Tom Isaacs on his outside as his show and go left Halfpenny clutching air as he went over to score despite Sam Watburton’s attempts to get across and cover.
Biggar added the extras to take the Ospreys three clear but they led for just three minutes, Halfpenny levelling things after Alun Wyn Jones was pinged by Nigel Owens for going off his feet.
Slowly the Ospreys appeared to gain the upper hand, Spratt, Ashley Beck, Tom Habberfield and Jonathan Thomas all prominent with ball in hand, but on more than one occasion they were penalised when deep inside Blues territory, allowing their opponents to clear their lines.
The Ospreys brought up the half hour with a Biggar three-pointer to nudge back in front after the Blues scrum had been penalised.
It got better minutes later as they grabbed their second try, a wonderful length of the field attack rounded off by Spratt. It came from a scrum deep inside their own half, Jonathan Thomas showing good control as the Ospreys eight turned the screw before picking up and releasing Justin Tipuric who hared up the right touchline into the Blues 22.
By the time the ball was worked wide there was a four on one overlap on the left, Ashley Beck providing the scoring pass for Spratt in the corner. TMO Nigel Whitehouse took just a cursory glance at the replay before confirming the score, Biggar’s conversion taking the Ospreys 10 clear.
The Millennium Stadium crowd were then treated to the rare site of Alun Wyn Jones galloping forward at pace after the skipper exchanged passes with Kahn Fotuali’i, the scrum-half held up just short of the Blues line, leaving the score 20-10 in the Ospreys favour at the break.
HALF-TIME: CARDIFF BLUES 10 OSPREYS 20
After a bright start to the second half from the Ospreys the game began to get bogged down in midfield, a series of knock-ons from both teams stopping any real momentum from building either way.
The Blues were handed the first score of the half in the 52nd minute through Halfpenny’s boot after Joe Bearman, a first half replacement for the injured Ian Evans, was failed to roll away.
As the hour clocked up the Blues were enjoying the lion’s share of possession without ever really getting into the danger zone as the Ospreys defended manfully through multiple phases of pressure.
However, a scrum penalty against Duncan Jones for going to ground, allowed Halfpenny to move his team to within four points with 18 minutes to go. Within 120 seconds Biggar had the chance to stretch the lead back up to seven but he pulled his penalty kick from 30m out wide to the left.
That seemed to sting the Ospreys back into life, Bearman providing some go forward, and the try-line was beckoning after Biggar spotted Alun Wyn Jones hugging the left touchline and sent over an inch perfect cross kick for the skipper who caught and offloaded to Spratt one handed. Spratt was halted short, Biggar released to Scott Baldwin a metre out, but the replacement hooker knocked on.
The respite was only temporary for the Blues, as a huge Ospreys shove at the resulting scrum saw the put-in awarded to the men in black on their opponents line. This time, as the Ospreys rumbled forward the ball squirmed out of the side allowing Lewis Jones to gather the loose ball, but a knock on from the Blues again saw the scrum going to the Ospreys as the clock reached 70 minutes.
With the Blues under huge pressure, the penalty went the Ospreys way. On the next occasion Jonathan Thomas picked up and went for the line only to lose his footing, and then as Fotuali’i recycled he swung a pass to Biggar who knocked on under near the posts, resulting in another Blues scrum, from which Patchell was eventually able to clear to touch.
Biggar was eventually able to add three points from a straightforward penalty, giving the Ospreys a seven point lead, and although the Blues rallied again after an offside decision against Bearman, there was no way through the black defensive line as the Ospreys secured a crucial win.