Ospreys fight hard to claim derby victory at Cardiff Arms Park on Friday night
Seventeen points from the boot of Dan Biggar and a second half try from Justin Tipuric helped the Ospreys to a third consecutive win in Cardiff in as many attempts, taking the region back into the PRO12 play-off spots.
On a blustery and wet evening at the Arms Park, a crowd of more than 10,000 enjoyed an entertaining contest that was in the balance right until the end, but ultimately it was the visitors who stretched their unbeaten record against Cardiff in this competition to six games, their last PRO12 defeat to the Blues coming on New Year’s Eve 2010.
It was the home team who drew first blood, Leigh Halfpenny with a straightforward early penalty kick from the right inside 150 seconds.
The response from the Ospreys was a positive one, putting together a number of phases as they worked the ball the full width of the pitch and back again. They looked to have lost momentum when Dan Biggar was unable to gather a pass in midfield, having to check and collect the loose ball behind him.
However, he showed good composure and awareness to steady himself and slot an instinctive drop goal straight between the posts from 35m or so out.
It almost got better for the Ospreys in the 9th minute and, again, Biggar was at the heart of it, charging down Lloyd Williams attempted clearance from the back of a ruck deep inside the Blues 22. Unfortunately for the Ospreys, Biggar was unable to collect the bouncing ball at full stretch, knocking on just short of the line.
However, the Blues were in trouble at their own put-in from the resulting scrum, struggling to get the ball out of dangerous territory with a strong wind in their face, and eventually the Ospreys were awarded a penalty for an offence at the breakdown. Biggar made no mistake with the penalty, putting his team in front.
Cardiff then saw Macauley Cook tackled into touch just five metres out as their quick passing saw them move it right to left, only to eventually run out of space close to the line.
That lifted the hosts, and the home crowd found their voices as their team put together a spell of possession, Harry Robinson and Alex Cuthbert both making ground with ball in hand, before a penalty against Justin Tipuric for lingering on the wrong side of the ruck saw Halfpenny handed the chance to level it just outside the 22. However, there was a sharp intake of breath around the Arms Park as the usually reliable full-back scuffed the simplest of kicks, leaving the Ospreys three points ahead.
A Blues offence at the scrum on their 10m line just a couple of minutes later resulted in Biggar slotting his third penalty of the night to take the score to 9-3 in the visitors favour.
Halfpenny missed again in the 25th minute after a scrum for Biggar’s knock-on was turned into a Blues penalty for words said to the ref, but the kick was blown to the right by the strong wind.
The Blues had more luck a couple of minutes later, when they grabbed the first try of the night. They had worked room for Robinson on the left, who looked set to cross in the corner, only for Sam Davies to halt his progress. It was recycled and moved back infield, where hooker Kristian Dacey was able to force his way over, TMO Gareth Simmonds confirming the score after checking whether the hooker had been held in the tackle a few metres short before getting back to his feet.
This time Halfpenny’s kick was good, and the Blues were ahead again by one point.
With the contest starting to develop some of the expected derby day niggle the Ospreys then almost managed to create space wide on the left, only for Joe Bearman to be driven backwards in the tackle as he looked to force his way over the line, before Aisea Natoga suffered a similar fate as he looked to support his number eight.
The pressure eventually told though, Biggar putting his team in front again with a straightforward kick following an offence at the ruck, and then a minute later, in the final 60 seconds of the half, he slotted over a more difficult kick from close to the left touchline, to stretch the Ospreys lead at the interval.
HALF-TIME: CARDIFF BLUES 10 OSPREYS 15
Halfpenny’s penalty three minutes after the restart, for not rolling way, pulled the Blues back to within two points, but the Ospreys’ first try of the game, in the 48th minute, saw the visitors pull further away.
It wasn’t the most eye-catching of scores, but Justin Tipuric won’t care, as the openside touched down after peeling off the back of a rolling maul for the score. Biggar kept up his incredible run of form with the boot to slot over the conversion from the left touchline to take his team nine points clear.
The Blues struck back seven minutes later with a long-range effort from Halfpenny on the halfway line after a penalty against the Ospreys at the scrum.
Referee Jerome Garces then showed yellow to replacement prop Marc Thomas just 14 minutes after he had replaced Ryan Bevington, following penalties against him at three consecutive scrums.
Within a couple of minutes the deficit was just three points, Halfpenny from in front of the posts after an Ospreys offside decision.
A man short and playing into the wind, the visitors found themselves coming under increasing pressure but Cardiff indiscipline, tackled player not releasing as the white shirts swarmed on him, resulted in a penalty which allowed the Ospreys to clear.
With the clock ticking down it was on a knife-edge, and twice the Blues thought they were in following chargedowns as the Ospreys, as had the Blues in the first half, struggled to clear their lines, only for the referee to pull them back for penalties to the visitors.
As the wind and rain worsened, the final stages were played out in midfield, the Ospreys happy to eat up time in the closing minutes as they held out for the first win of a busy Christmas period.