The Ospreys came from behind to secure a memorable win over Aviva Premiership high-flyers Exeter at the Liberty Stadium to get their Champions Cup campaign off to a flying start.
After trailing 10-6 at the break, Dan Biggar’s boot put the Ospreys into a winning position before Josh Matavesi ran in a 70 metre interception try to make the game safe and deny Exeter even a losing bonus point.
Despite missing three penalties, Biggar kicked a total of 20 points on his way to the Heineken man of the match award.
The hosts started brightly, building some early pressure that possibly should have resulted in the first try of the evening.
Good lineout ball deep inside the Exeter 22 provided the platform from which to attack, and after a series of drives took them close to the line, Dmitri Arhip, Matavesi and Biggar all got stopped inches away.
However, there was an advantage in their favour, allowing Biggar to eventually slot over a simple three pointer to put the Ospreys ahead with eight minutes on the clock.
It was a fast and frenetic opening, all you’d expect of a traditional Anglo-Welsh clash, and with the travelling support helping to create a fantastic atmosphere, there was a real buzz around the Liberty Stadium.
An Exeter offside then allowed Biggar to double the Ospreys lead on 19 minutes, splitting the sticks from the 10m line.
Five minutes later it was Exeter’s turn to get the scoreboard moving, a Gareth Steenson penalty following a Dan Lydiate offside.
Off the back of that score, Exeter then enjoyed their first real spell of pressure, going through multiple phases, drive after drive taking them close to the Ospreys line.
Eventually, it looked as though Luke Cowan-Dickie had found a way through, stretching over the line to ground it. After it was referred upstairs to the TMO though it became clear that the hooker had lost possession as he went down thanks to the efforts of Paul James and Lloyd Ashley. A penalty to the Ospreys at the resulting scrum allowed Biggar to relieve the pressure.
However, the first Exter try did come just a few minutes later and it was a score that wouldn’t please the Ospreys coaches.
There seemed little danger when Will Chudley collected a high ball inside his own half with two chasers closing in on him, but his dummy left them both clutching at thin air. He then released his winger James Short who was able to race half the pitch to score, evading two attempted tackles close to the touchline far too easily. Steenson added the extras and Exeter led by four points.
Biggar had the chance to reply immediately but his kick from 40m out on the left fell short of the near post.
He had another chance a couple of minutes later after Exeter were penalised for going off their feet after the outside half had won his own kick chase, but again he failed to find the target despite being 10m closer to the posts, meaning the Ospreys still trailed by four as the teams headed back down the tunnel.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 6 EXETER CHIEFS 10
Having missed two on the bounce it was third time lucky for Biggar as he slotted over a penalty within three minutes of the restart to bring the Ospreys back to within a point.
A fantastic kick return from Dan Evans, collecting the high ball deep inside his own half and running it back at the heart of the Exeter defence, resulted in a penalty 30m out. This time it couldn’t have been closer, Biggar’s kick hitting the left upright and bouncing back into play.
As Exeter looked to play it out from close to their own line they were penalised on the floor and this time Biggar made no mistake, his second kick in 90 seconds finding the target to put the Ospreys back in front.
With the volume levels rising in the stands it was becoming frantic on the field, both teams looking to run the ball despite the poor weather conditions.
A penalty against Justin Tipuric at the breakdown, as the Ospreys were appealing for their own penalty for holding on, allowed Steenson to nudge his team a point clear a minute before the hour mark.
However, the Chiefs made a mess of the restart, knocking on close to their line and even though the Ospreys failed to make an impact at the scrum the ball was recycled and Biggar was well positioned to slot over a drop goal.
As the contest moved into the final quarter, the Ospreys were holding a two-point lead.
It was intense stuff with little to separate the two teams but a penalty at the scrum on the Exeter 10m resulted in Biggar slotting over another three on 69 minutes to make the score 18-13.
As the game moved into the closing stages it was delicately poised, but the hosts were able to make the game safe when Matavesi read a long Steenson pass close to the Ospreys 22 perfectly, stepping in to intercept and race the full length of the field and score, despite the best efforts of Jack Nowell. Biggar converted and the Ospreys were 12 clear with six minutes to go.
As you’d expect, Exeter spent the closing minutes desperately looking for a score that would earn them a losing bonus point but the Ospreys were able to hold them at bay, defending stoutly to keep them outside of the 22.
With a famous win in the bag against the team currently sitting in second place in the Aviva Premiership, the focus turns immediately to next Sunday and one of the toughest propositions in European rugby, Clermont Auvergne at Stade Marcel Michelin.