Two tries in the final quarter weren’t enough for the Ospreys as they fell to a 29-17 loss against Northampton Saints in the Heineken Cup at the Liberty Stadium.
The region’s slim hopes of progressing past the pool stages for the first time in four years were dashed as the Saints built on a 12-3 half-time leas to outscore the hosts by three tries to two as the game went back and forth in the second half.
The first half saw Stephen Myler strike four penalties between the sticks with Dan Biggar landed his solitary attempt.
Rhys Webb grabbed his second try in as many games with captain Alun-Wyn Jones crossing the line too. It wasn’t enough as George Pisi and Glenn Dickson added to man of the match, George North’s early second half touchdown.
It was Northampton who had the first chance to open the scoring after the Ospreys were penalised at a scrum in their own half. Stephen Myler stepped up to put the Saints into the lead after just 3 minutes.
Both defences had a ferocity about them with the robust Richard Hibbard getting met with some force by Alex Waller in midfield. Justin Tipuric left his mark on Stephen Myler as he got the ball away and Jeff Hassler was already enjoying a physical battle with Welshman, George North.
A powerful Ospreys driving maul brought the home crowd to life as it rumbled forward from just outside their own twenty-two up to the half way before being rewarded with a penalty. The resulting lineout wasn’t as successful as the visitors turned the ball over.
Northampton hit back and made their way up the pitch with the help of some Ospreys ill-discipline. Another penalty was slotted by Myler, extending the Saints lead to six points.
Biggar dinked a little up and under behind the Northampton defence which he gathered coolly in the air. The Ospreys looked to attack but the visitors slowed the ball up illegally at the breakdown, giving the fly half his first shot at goal, which he duly converted.
Richard Fussell managed to slip a tackle from deep as the Northampton defence rushed up but as he looked for support, all he could see was a number of green and gold jerseys. The Ospreys were on the front foot but a loose box kick from Rhys Webb gave the possession back to their opponents.
After a series of scrums went down, it was Northampton who were eventually awarded the penalty. The Saints ventured to just outside the twenty-two where they looked for the game’s first try. They had to settle for only another three points as Myler notched over his third penalty of the match.
The Ospreys were having a torrid time at the scrum as they were deemed to infringe yet again. Captain Alun-Wyn Jones had been warned that one of his players would be sent to the sin bin if it continued and that player was Ryan Bevington.
Myler added another penalty to his team’s score after the TMO deemed that Tipuric had caused an obstruction on the outside-half.
The Ospreys started to have some confidence about them as they made the trip into the Saints twenty-two. Ian Evans and Joe Bearman made the hard yards in midfield before Fussell in the stand-off position sent Tipuric through a gap. The British Lion popped off to Jeff Hassler to score in the corner but the TMO disallowed the try due to a forward pass from the open-side on the brink of half-time.
HALF TIME: Ospreys 3 Northampton 12
It was the Ospreys who started the brighter of the two teams as they battled their way deep into the Saints half but failed to make inroads through the Northampton defence.
A stray boot kicked the ball loose at the base of the Ospreys ruck inside the opposition 22, allowing Kahn Fotuali’I to come away with the ball. The former Ospreys scrum-half unleashed George North down the wing and the Welshman had the freedom of the pitch as he galloped the length of the field to score. Myler hit the post with the conversion.
The Saints had the momentum and almost immediately, North broke the line from within his own half again. Myler was in support and he linked up with Jamie Elliot out wide but the Ospreys scramble defence thwarted the attack.
Joe Bearman was sent straight down Myler’s channel and the number eight put his team on the front foot. The ball was recycled quickly and Biggar used the wrap around to break down the wing. The Wales outside-half had options either side of him in Tipuric and Hassler but his pass hit a Saints player before bobbling into touch.
The Ospreys continued to look for a way back into the match and their first scrum penalty of the match, greeted by ironic cheers from the crowd, gave them strong field position. Another strong maul from the Ospreys caused the Saints to infringe and Biggar kicked to the corner again.
Another maul ensued and the Ospreys looked dangerous again. Christian Day brought the maul down this time and he was sent for ten minutes in the bin. Alun-Wyn opted for the corner again but the ball was thrown beyond Tipuric’s outstretched fingertips.
However, the Ospreys managed to bundle Northampton Saints behind their own goal-line, earning a five-metre scrum. Biggar made the run to the blind-side late and slipped a small grubbar kick behind the visitors defence to Fussell who crossed the line only to be held up by last gasp Saints defensive work.
The Ospreys remained patient as Morgan Allen took his team closer to the line from a pick-up at the back of the scrum. Rhys Webb backed up his number eight, had a snipe and dived over to bring the Ospreys back into the game. Biggar slotted the easy conversion.
It was the home team with playing with their tails up as the Ospreys played to their strengths at the maul with the man advantage.
Gaving weathered the storm in their own territory, the visitors started to throw the ball around using their big centre Luther Burrell to suck in the defenders as they worked their way upfield. As the ball came wide, George Pisi avoided a high tackle from Aisea Natoga to dive over out wide. Myler missed the conversion and Natoga was sent to the bin.
The Ospreys didn’t give up as the rain started to fall and had a lineout on their opposition’s five metre-line. A change of tactic saw Scott Baldwin go to the back of the lineout. A few pick-ups from Adam Jones and company brought the Ospreys closer before Alun Wyn Jones was the man who clinched the five pointer. Biggar converted.
Only five-points separated the two sides with as many minutes remaining on the clock, and the Ospreys were very much in the match. However, the home team were a little lackadaisical in their own half and Webb found himself isolated. The Saints emerged from the ruck with the ball and George North beat a number of defenders before being brought down short. A simple pass from the ruck and substitute Glenn Dickson crashed over to clinch the win for the Saints. Myler converted.