The Ospreys ended the season on a high note, running in six tries in a 45-20 victory over Connacht at the Liberty Stadium on the final day of the season.
Ashley Beck touched down twice to take him up to 7th place in the all-time Ospreys try-scoring list, while there were also scores for Jeff Hassler, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Baker Nicky Smith - his first in senior rugby. Dan Biggar enjoyed a perfect night with the boot to score seven from seven, while Connacht played their part in an entertaining contest scoring three tries of their own.
It was the Irish province who opened the scoring after three minutes, before the Ospreys even had possession of the ball. A scrum penalty against the home team gave Miah Nikora the chance to open the scoring and he did so with ease.
The Ospreys blew a glorious opportunity nine minutes into the match after Sam Davies put Justin Tipuric in space out wide. The Wales open side only had to draw Danie Poolman to put Hassler over to score but the Canadian came inside and couldn’t hold on to the ball.
However, Sam Lewis gave the winger a chance to redeem himself as he ripped the ball away from Connacht at the breakdown on halfway before popping it up to Hassler. He pinned his ears back and accelerated towards the line with no-one in front of him. Connacht centre, Eoin Griffin came across to attempt to put Hassler down but the winger’s power proved too much as he touched down in the corner. Biggar added the extras.
The lead didn’t last long as Darragh Leader grabbed a try of his own soon after. Nikora spotted Poolman in space out wide and delivered a cross field kick to his winger. Davies slowed down the attack but Poolman got his hand free before offloading to Leader. The fullback gave Hassler a taste of his own medicine as he shrugged off the cover tackle to score. Nikora missed the conversion.
The Ospreys gained control and were threatening the Connacht line, looking to spread the ball wide at every opportunity. Their persistence soon paid off as hard running from Hassler provided Biggar and Davies to show off their quick hands to put Beck over in the corner. Biggar slotted a sublime kick from the touchline to stretch the lead.
The scrum had been keenly contested early on but as the half drew to a close the Ospreys gained three points from the setpiece, Nicky Smith, Scott Baldwin and Aaron Jarvis powered through the Connacht scrum to give Biggar the chance to kick at goal and he kicked the three points.
It wasn’t long until the Ospreys crossed for their third try. Hanno Dirksen made a strong break, coming on the inside shoulder of Biggar but the winger was pulled down short of the line. The ball was recycled quickly and Tom Habberfield put his captain Alun Wyn Jones in to score underneath the sticks, his second try in as many games.
Half-time was looming and Connacht needed a try to get back into the game, and they managed to grab it. The Ospreys were giving away penalties, giving their opponents strong field position and Connacht made it count through their driving maul, as the forwards powered over with Denis Buckley emerging as the try scorer. Nikora converted.
HALF TIME: Ospreys 24 Connacht 15
Another dominant Ospreys scrum early in the second half earned them a penalty and with that a place in the Connacht half from which to attack.
A powerful driving maul controlled by Baldwin at the tail, rumbled into the Connacht twenty-two. Again, the Ospreys looked to go wide and offload but sloppy passing mean the ball was not going to hand. However, Beck picked up loose possession and threw an audacious dummy before sprinting through an opening in the Connacht defence to clinch the bonus point try for his team. Biggar kicked the conversion. His second of the game took him to 21 in 90 Ospreys appearance, and allowed him to leapfrog the departing Ryan Jones on the all-time list.
Connacht refused to lie down and surrender though and they kept looking to go forward whenever they could. The Galway outfit remained patient as they went through the phases before Nikora looked for another cross field kick towards Poolman. The ball ended up in the hands of Hassler who picked the tricky kick out of the sky with composure, quashing the Connacht attack.
The Ospreys ventured back down into the Connacht twenty-two and had a lineout just short of the five metre line. The home team looked to their maul but Connacht seemed to have countered the threat, with Baldwin ending up inches from the line. However, Smith was on hand to pick the ball up and leap over the ruck to grab his first ever Ospreys try. Biggar added another two points.
A mistake from the restart by the Ospreys gifted Connacht possession and it wasn’t long until they grabbed their third try of the match. Patience at the breakdown and quick hands from Eoin McKeon put Dave Heffernan over in the corner. Nikora missed the difficult conversion.
The Ospreys almost hit back immediately through Tyler Ardron but the Canadian was held up short. Another cross field kick, this time from Dan Parks, was gathered by Aisea Natoga. The winger linked up with Jonathan Spratt and Beck before Ardron hurtled towards the line, only to be held up as he slid over.
It didn’t matter, however, as from the resulting scrum, Dan Baker picked up before exhibiting his fine ball carrying ability, slipping off two tackles and dotting down. Biggar struck another conversion.
With the rain pouring down, the game became a scrappy affair in the last ten minutes with the ball getting spilled on several occasions. Like his tries, skipper Alun Wyn Jones found himself in the sin bin for the second week running, for putting his boot to the ball when it was in the hands of Caolin Blade, but it was to have no impact on the game as the final stages were played out with no further scoring.