The Ospreys ran in four tries at a windy Sandy Park in an entertaining contest on Saturday afternoon.
Early scores from Dafydd Howells and Morgan Allen gave them an early lead, only for the Chiefs to hit back with two quick tries at the start of the second half to go 22-10 ahead.
An Ospreys rally, with tries from Matthew Jenkins and Tom Grabham saw them level it as 22-all, only for Exeter to finish strongly and dash Ospreys hopes of a win,
There was a healthy crowd present at Sandy Park for an Anglo-Welsh clash at the traditional 3pm Saturday afternoon kick-off, despite the unfamiliar look to the two line-ups.
After a promising start from the Ospreys, they had the chance for an early pot at goal eight minutes in, around 30m from the line, but with such a blustery wind making kicking difficult opted to go for the corner instead.
They were rewarded for the decision with the opening score of the match, the line out maul being halted close to the line before Tom Habberfield spun it to young wing Howells, coming in at pace running a good angle, and there was no stopping him from close range.
Matthew Morgan’s off-target attempt at a conversion drew gasps from the crowd as the wind spun it off away from goal, the two posts blowing vigorously.
They led for just five minutes, Exeter hitting back in similar circumstances when they snubbed the kick at goal to go to the corner. This time, the attacking pack were able to rumble over at the first attempt, Luke Cowan-Dickie grounding the ball. Ceri Sweeney’s conversion seemed destined to split the posts only to be blown wide to the right at the last moment, leaving it all square.
It was an open, attacking game, and the Ospreys retook the lead in the 18th minute with their second try. Exeter were guilty of poor defending as Ian Whittle failed to deal with Habberfield’s hopeful kick to the corner, allowing Jenkins to steal the ball in the air before offloading to the supporting Allen who had a simple stroll in to score. Again, the conversion was off target.
The Ospreys were reduced to 14 in the 21st minute, Arthur Ellis seeing yellow for playing the ball on the ground as Exeter pressed the line, and this time Sweeney managed to nail the kick, his penalty taking the score to 8-10.
With the swirling wind playing a major part in the game, Exeter again went to the corner when awarded a penalty on the 10m line, and it seemed that the forwards were going to march over the Ospreys line once more.
The visitors were able to repel the forward thrust, but when it was worked out to Sweeney a try seemed the only outcome. However, the combined efforts of Grabham and Ross Jones was enough to bundle the former Wales cap into touch, despite his best attempt to ground it in the corner.
Ellis returned to the field, and within 30 seconds it was Exeter who were a man short after try-scorer Cowan-Dickie was sinbinned for killing the ball, after a great counter-attack from deep inside the Ospreys half saw Habberfield carrying to the Exeter 10m line before feeding Grabham. He cut in field and headed towards the line, only to be hauled down 6m short, where Exeter’s hooker was guilty of preventing quick ball.
As the first half moved into the final 90 seconds, a scrum penalty in Exeter’s favour allowed Sweeney to put them in the same spot as the first try came from. On this occasion, the Ospreys pack were able to halt their progress of the maul a metre short. Scrum half Stuart Townsend tried to snipe over from close range but his opposite number Habberfield was alert to the danger, getting the tackle in and holding the player up on the line to ensure the Ospreys remained in front at the break.
HALF-TIME: EXETER CHIEFS 8 OSPREYS 10
Exeter began the second period as they’d ended the first, on the offensive, and they almost grabbed the lead within four minutes.
With a knock-on advantage in their favour Sireli Naqelevuki gave his team some go-forward, ably supported by James Scaysbrook, before the ball was moved wide to Fetu’u Vainikolo who opened his legs on the left and went for the line, only to be forced into the knock-on by Howells as he stretched to ground the ball.
The Ospreys cleared to touch from the resulting scrum but were soon back underneath the posts as Exeter snatched the lead following another powerful rolling maul ended with open side Scaysbrook going over. Sweeney added the extras.
The opening stages of the second half were being played out exclusively in Ospreys territory, and within three minutes the hosts had stretched their lead. It was similar to their first two, this time a rolling maul on the right, with the ball being touched down by Cowan-Dickie for his second try, just two minutes after returning to the field.
Sweeney added the conversion, and at this stage it looked as though Exeter may run away with it.
However, the Ospreys struck back with the try of the match after stealing the ball from an Exeter line-out close to the visitors 22. Matthew Morgan was able to get his players moving, Tyler Ardron charging over halfway. Jonathan Spratt carried well, stepping infield, before feeding Jenkins who rounded off a wonderful move.
Morgan’s conversion brought the Ospreys to back within five points, and they were level just four minutes later thanks to Grabham, who scored their fourth try of an entertaining contest.
A penalty on the left saw them follow the pattern of the match, going for a line out, and after Exeter’s defence had held firm to the first charge, it was spun out wide to the right where the winger was in acres of space. Morgan’s conversion from the touchline failed to reach the posts as the wind gusted back in his face, leaving it all square,
It was level for just minutes though as another powerful forward drive from the Chiefs saw them inch towards the Ospreys line. The pack was finally halted, but James Phillips reacted quickest to find a gap in the defence before Sweeney added the extras, taking the score to 29-22 in Exeter’s favour.
Ross Jones thought he had scored the Ospreys fifth try with 68 minutes on the clock after good work in the build-up from Spratt and Howells, only for play to be brought back for an Exeter throw after a foot in touch from the young winger as he offloaded what had looked like the scoring pass to Jones.
An incredible contest then saw the Ospreys back behind their own line after Exeter stretched their lead through blindside Don Armand, pouncing from a metre out after Phillips had picked up at the back of a scrum-five. Sweeney’s conversion took Exeter 14 points clear.
To the Ospreys credit, a young side refused to throw the towel in and came back at Exeter once more, a Dan Baker chargedown as the Chiefs looked to clear from behind their own line falling unfavourably for the visitors, allowing the home team a second chance to clear.
Despite their valiant efforts though, there was no way back for the Ospreys.