Connacht 26 Ospreys 43
The Ospreys ran in six tries as they maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a bonus point win over Connacht in Galway
Dan Biggar scored 18 points, including the opening try, to make history by becoming the first Welshman and only the second player in the history of the Celtic League to pass 1000 tournament points.
The other scores came from Richard Fussell, Eli Walker, Tito Tebaldi, Jeff Hassler and Alun Wyn Jones as the Ospreys, who led from the 8th minute, had to withstand a fierce second half show from Connacht who try came back to within three points before being blown away in the final 10 minutes.
It was Connacht who opened the scoring, Craig Ronaldson slotting over a penalty in the fourth minute, but the Ospreys struck back in style with the first try of the game just four minutes later.
Biggar got the scoreboard moving for the visitors, reading a Ronaldson pass in midfield perfectly to intercept on the hosts 10m line and race clear under the posts to score before picking himself up to add the extras.
Despite going behind, the setback didn’t put the Irish side off their stride and they came back at the Ospreys, enjoying plenty of possession but they were unable to find their way through, and the classic sucker punch came 10 minutes later when the visitors grabbed their second try of the afternoon.
It came from Fussell, going over after smart hands from the backs worked the ball across the field, but the catalyst for the Ospreys was big second row Ian Evans, charging through the Connacht defence with ball in hand, his fellow Lion Justin Tipuric providing able support. Biggar’s conversion took the score to 3-14.
The Ospreys lineout was misfiring in the early stages, possession turned over twice while in good positions deep into Connacht territory, allowing Connacht to move back upfield.
Ronaldson’s second penalty, on the 26th minute, kept Connacht in it, but they failed to gather Biggar’s restart, the knock-on leading to an attacking scrum for the Ospreys. A solid shove gave them a great attacking platform, Biggar got the backs moving once again and it was Walker who slid over in the corner to score despite the best efforts of fullback Gavin Duffy. In the absence of a TMO, touch judge and referee consulted each other very quickly, before awarding the score.
Kicking into the wind, Biggar couldn’t add the extras, but a couple of minutes later he had better luck with a penalty after Brett Wilkinson was pinged at the scrum, taking the scoreline to 9-22.
Ospreys ill-discipline was proving to be something of an Achilles heel, with six penalties to one going Connacht’s way, leading eventually to a team warning being issued to skipper Alun Wyn Jones. Ronaldson kicked his fourth penalty, bringing Connacht back to within 10 points, before limping off injured before the game restarted to be replaced by the experienced Dan Parks meaning the PRO12’s two all-time top scorers were now both on the field.
Biggar had one more opportunity to stretch the lead before the break, a penalty for offside giving him a sight of the posts only for him to strike the upright allowing Connacht to clear to touch and bring the first half to a close.
HALF-TIME: CONNACHT 12 OSPREYS 22
Connacht started the second half brightly, a flowing move taking them close to the Ospreys line in the opening minutes, Duffy and Robbie Henshaw both being stopped just short in the initial wave of pressure, before a sharp break from Matt Healy almost saw the wing finding a way through.
After 15 minutes of Connacht pressure the Ospreys finally managed to work their way upfield into opposition territory, only for scrappy ball at their own lineout to allow the hosts to steal the ball through Aly Muldowney. Connacht reacted quickly, noticing the numbers out wide to break at speed, goingall the way to score from winger Danie Poolman, Parks converting to cut the deficit to just three points.
The response from the Ospreys was a perfect one, a little bit of individual genius seeing Italian scrum-half Tito Tebaldi seeing him dancing through three tackles to score the region’s fourth try, claiming the bonus point. Biggar added the extras to take his team 10 points clear once again.
It was proving to be an absolute cracker, and once again a lack of discipline from the Ospreys proved costly as a penalty in midfield allowed Parks to put Connacht deep into opposition territory. From the setpiece Poolman was again the dangerman, brushing off some ineffective tackling before eventually being brought down. It was recycled, and Kieron Marmion darted over from close range to score, Parks kicking the conversion to make it a three point gap.
Back again came the Ospreys with a wonderfully worked try in the 73rd minute, sparked by a turnover won in their own territory which allowed them to counterattack with real intent, and Tebaldi again hurt the Connacht defence before it was spun out to Hassler, the Candian scoring his second try in successive games and the region’s fifth of the night.
Biggar made no mistake with the conversion, taking his team 10 clear once more, and enjoying his own personal landmark as he broke through the 1000 point barrier in the competition.
With time ticking away there was no way back for Connacht, and the Ospreys finished on a positive with their sixth try of the night, as a quick tap and go on the 5m line caught the hosts napping, allowing Alun Wyn Jones to crash over from close range, Biggar’s conversion rounding off a breathtaking match and a great win for the Ospreys.