Aisea Natoga ran in his second hat-trick of the season as the Ospreys romped to a bonus point win over Cardiff at the Liberty Stadium on Friday night.
Ashley Beck grabbed the first of the Ospreys’ five tries after just 10 minutes, with Rhys Webb also touching down, while Dan Biggar added nine points with his boot.
The win takes the region eight points clear of fifth placed Glasgow, who host the Scarlets on Saturday and will have two games in hand on the Ospreys after that game.
The Ospreys were on top from the first whistle, aggressive work from the pack at a Cardiff scrum giving them the early initiative, as Jonathan Spratt’s little grubber behind the defence carried just too far for the chasing Jeff Hassler.
Despite that chance going begging, the Ospreys remained dominant in the opening exchanges, and after winning good turnover ball close to halfway the home team attacked at pace, the centres combining to free Natoga on the left wing. The Fijian fended off Alex Cuthbert, but was forced into touch by the covering Gavin Evans.
It was relentless early pressure from the Ospreys, and they made the breakthrough with a fine try from in the 10th minute. A quick tap-free kick following an offence at the scrum saw the Ospreys on the front foot, good off the ball movement and running angles seeing the opposition defence at sixes and sevens. Eventually, the ball was worked out to the right, where Biggar fed Beck, the centre dummying the outside pass to Sam Davies before stepping infield past his man to score.
Biggar added the extra from close to the touchline, before the Blues grabbed their first points just three minutes later from the boot of Gareth Davies after Biggar was pinged at the tackle contest.
The Ospreys grabbed their second try within two minutes and it was a well worked team score rounded off by some individual opportunism from Natoga. The move started with a line out on the right, before the ball was worked across field where Webb spotted a lack of defensive cover and put a delicate kick through for his winger to chase. He had an awful lot to do, but fine footballing skills allowed him to wrong foot Cuthbert, playing it infield, and he won the race to ground it.
Biggar’s conversion attempt was inches wide of the near post, leaving it 12-3 to the Ospreys.
As the second quarter got underway and with the heavens opening over the Liberty, two penalties in quick succession allowed Gareth Davies to bring his team back to within three despite having played almost all the whole game in their own half.
However, some great work from Justin Tipuric at the restart allowed the Ospreys to turn it over, regaining possession and going back on the offensive. Having probed to the left, and then to the right, they came back to the left hand side where, eventually, magic hands from Sam Davies off Biggar’s pass took out two defenders instantly, allowing Natoga the simplest of finishes for his second of the night. Biggar again missed his kick, this time pushing across the face of the posts to the right, leaving the score at 17-9.
By now the incessant rain had forced all but the hardiest of supporters at the front of the East Stand to seek cover further back, but they would have been pleased to see the Ospreys go in at the break eight points to the good.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 17 CARDIFF BLUES 9
Having soaked up some early pressure from the visitors, the Ospreys were soon back on the offensive, using a scrum 25m out from the line as a platform to attack. Tipuric tried to squeeze over on the left but was held up just short, before Rhys Webb spotted the gap and went for the line.
Referee Nigel Owens was closest but referred the decision upstairs to TMO Derek Bevan, with the question ‘any reason I can’t award the try?’.
After lengthy consultation, and multiple replays, the try was awarded despite the best efforts of the Blues cover, ensuring the bonus point was in the bag with more than half an hour to go. Biggar duly added the extras.
A penalty against Filo Paulo for going off his feet at the ruck then gave Biggar the simplest of kicks to move the scoreboard up to 27-9.
A procession of substitutions either side of the hour saw the flow of the game breaking up, neither team able to get any rhythm to their play in the heavy rain. However, quick line out ball on the right, midway inside the Blues half, allowed the Ospreys to attack at pace, moving it swiftly across the field, and it was the Sam Davies/Natoga partnership that worked again, the full-back feeding his wing close to the touchline. Despite Cuthbert’s best efforts, the Fijian just managed to ground it before stepping out of play, the try again confirmed by the TMO. Biggar converted.
There was to be no further scoring as the Ospreys cruised home, knowing there is a bigger test to come next week when they travel north to face Glasgow. The win means the Ospreys remain unbeaten against Welsh opposition in the PRO12 since January 2012, a winning run which now stretches to 13 games.