Dan Biggar’s penalty with the clock in overtime secured the Ospreys a share of the spoils after an evenly balanced contest at the RDS in Dublin on Saturday evening.
Leinster had enjoyed the better of the first half, building up a 10 point lead shortly before half-time, but two tries in quick succession early in the second period, from Joe Bearman and Ashley Beck, meant they lead going into the final 10.
However, Leinster made light work of having a man in the bin to score 10 unanswered points while down to 14, meaning Biggar’s last gasp kick was to rescue a draw at the death, taking his tally for the evening to 19.
It was a glorious early autumn evening in Dublin as the PRO12 champions of 2012 kicked off against the champions of 2013, and some early pressure from the visitors resulted in a penalty on the 22 against Devin Toner for not rolling away, and Biggar duly slotted over the opening points of the evening inside 150 seconds.
The lead lasted just a couple of minutes though as Leinster hit back in style with the game’s first try. Brendan Macken was the catalyst with a break up the right and although the Ospreys defence was able to snuff out the initial threat it was recycled and moved quickly across to the left where the unlikely figure of hooker Richardt Strauss was able to take the scoring pass and canter over unopposed.
Leinster outside half Jimmy Gopperth pulled his conversion attempt short of the near post, leaving the score 5-3 to the hosts with five minutes gone.
The hosts then stretched their lead on 13 minutes with a classic counter-attack launched from well within their own half after Eli Walker had failed to collect Richard Fussell’s loose pass midway inside the Leinster half.
It was the team in blue who reacted first to secure the loose ball, Gopperth carrying well up field before slipping it to full back Dave Kearney, running a good support line, who received the ball 30m out and hugging the touchline, from where he raced past the cover defence to score in the corner. Again Gopperth failed with his conversion.
The Ospreys hadn’t spent too much time in Leinster territory since the opening minutes, but with 17 minutes gone a quickly taken free-kick for a crooked feed by Eoin Reddan at a scrum allowed Tito Tebaldi to put his team on the front foot.
As Leinster retreated, the visitors inched close to the line, only for Sam Lewis to knock on a metre or so out as he tried to crash his way through contact.
Gopperth then stretched the lead to 10 points with an opportunist drop goal on 24 minutes, picking the ball up off his laces before slotting it over, only for Biggar to respond with his second penalty just a minute or so later.
New Zealander Gopperth then slotted over a penalty to take Leinster’s lead back up to 10 points.
The Ospreys were struggling to work up any real momentum in what was becoming a scrappy contest, played out mainly in the middle third of the field. However, Biggar was able to ensure the Ospreys ended the half on a positive as he sliced the posts for a third time with the last kick of the half after a Leinster player was penalised for going off his feet.
HALF-TIME: LEINSTER 16 OSPREYS 9
The visitors started the second half positively, taking the game to Leinster, and a penalty against Mike McCarthy for tackling the man without the ball allowed Biggar an early sight at goal and, again, he made no mistake, his kick from the 10m line cutting the deficit to four points.
Gopperth was then on target once again with a long range penalty after Ian Evans has been pinged for laying the wrong side of a ruck, making it 19-12 to Leinster with half an hour remaining.
That sparked the Ospreys into life and they responded with their best spell of the game, working their way upfield through multiple phases before Walker was released on the left wing. Sean Cronin was able to bring the winger down with a fine tackle but he ball was kept alive and eventually Biggar provided a lovely pop pass to number eight Bearman who was on his shoulder, the big man crashing over to score a try that was confirmed by the TMO after checking the final pass and the grounding.
Biggar’s conversion levelled things up at 19-apiece, but within two minutes the Ospreys were ahead for the first time since the opening five minutes, a well worked try in the same left hand corner stunning the RDS crowd into silence.
There seemed little threat to the Leinster defence as first Andrew Bishop and then Fussell carried from halfway. James King supported well, and then the ever dangerous Walker beat his man out wide before a lovely one-handed offload inside to Beck who rounded the final defender to score in the corner. Biggar’s touchline conversion took the Ospreys a converted try clear.
Gopperth and Darragh Fanning looked to fashion something in response for Leinster, but the Ospreys defence was able to snuff out the threat, eventually winning a scrum after Rhys Ruddock knocked on in the tackle, a penalty at the resulting set-piece allowing Biggar to clear.
A penalty against Tebaldi for going off his feet gave Leinster a fairly straightforward attempt at goal, but they opted to go for the corner instead. After being initially disrupted by an Ospreys counter-drive, the home pack resettled and drove ominously towards the line. A try looked inevitable but the visitors were somehow able to hold them up, resulting in an Ospreys scrum five after it was ruled unplayable.
The new scrum laws were introduced to reduce the time spent resetting scrums, but the Ospreys would have been happy to see the next couple of minutes being spent on reset after reset, before the penalty eventually went the way of the visitors with Cronin shown a yellow card following several team warnings.
There were just 14 minutes left on the clock, with the Ospreys up against 14 men for the first 10 of those, defending their seven-point lead. As you’d expect, the Leinster crowd were raising the volume levels as they urged their side on.
Despite being a man short it was Leinster applying the pressure after Gopperth and Jordi Murphy combined to put them on the front foot, the number eight doing well to collect the 10’s up and under.
A series of pick and go’s were repelled by the Ospreys defence, but loosehead Jack McGrath eventually forced his way over under the posts, the TMO confirming the grounding despite the best efforts of Duncan Jones to get underneath the ball.
Gopperth’s conversion levelled things again with 10 minutes remaining.
The hosts kept on coming and an offside decision against Sam Lewis in front of the posts handed Leinster a golden opportunity to take control of the contest, Gopperth nudging Leinster ahead again in the 75th minute.
Leinster had scored 10 points while a man short, and were boosted by the return of Cronin for the final two minutes as they looked to hold onto their three point lead.
The Ospreys threw everything at the opposition, patiently working their way upfield, and with time up won a penalty midway inside the Leinster half. Instead of waiting for Biggar to step up, Tebaldi took it quickly, charging into a Leinster defender on the 22 to win a second penalty for not retreating, allowing Biggar a simple kick to secure a draw with the final act of an entertaining game.