The Ospreys ran in five tries at the Liberty Stadium on Friday night to secure a crucial bonus point win in the race for Champions Cup qualification.
Starting the weekend a point ahead of their opponents and needing a win to put daylight between them as they pursued a spot in next season’s Champions Cup, the Ospreys led from the third minute, the result rarely looking in danger.
Dan Biggar got the first points of the evening, his long-range kick from just inside the Connacht half after crossing in midfield getting the scoreboard moving with just 135 seconds on the clock.
A Connacht offside 15 metres closer to the posts five minutes met with the same result, Biggar doubling the home team’s advantage.
The Ospreys were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes when Dan Evans was sent to the sidelines for what was adjudged to be a deliberate knock-on by the full back, his swinging arm stopping Niyi Adeolokun from gathering close to the right hand touchline.
However, despite Connacht pressing, looking to take advantage of the extra man, it was the Ospreys who struck to score the game’s first try.
As Connacht probed close to the Ospreys line Hassler read Eoin Griffin’s pass five metres out, plucking it from the air and racing the length of the field to score under the posts, Biggar adding the extras.
Try two should have come just 90 seconds later, Sam Cross running a great angle to get within five metres, only for Tom Habberfield to then lose his footing as he took the ball in support with the line beckoning. James King was eventually penalised on the floor, allowing Connacht to clear.
At the other end, Griffin almost found a way through, good footwork taking him past two defenders before Cross was able to haul him down. The Connacht forwards created quick ball and with a two-man overlap out on the left it was a simple finish for Craig Ronaldson who also added the extras.
With the half hour mark approaching and the Ospreys back up to 15, they duly stretched their lead and it was Evans, just moments after returning to the field, who scored.
Playing a penalty advantage following a Connacht offence at the maul, Biggar’s snap pass found the fullback, coming into the line at pace, who danced around the last man to score. Biggar’s conversion meant the Ospreys led 20-7.
Jack Carty reduced the deficit to 10 inside the final minute of the half, a straightforward kick from the 22 after the Ospreys were pinged for interference in the air at the lineout.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 20-10 CONNACHT
An offside against the Ospreys allowed Carty what seemed like the simplest of three points six minutes into the second half but the touch judges flags stayed down.
Despite the very clear calls from the outside half to go to the TMO, Biggar was able to restart play with a drop out 22, the 10 point lead intact.
After that scare the Ospreys were able to set up camp in the Connacht 22, constant pressure leading to a series of penalties. Eventually, a quick tap and go from Biggar saw him halted on the line before Otten arrived in support to pick up and drive his way over for a score confirmed by the TMO, converted by Biggar.
The Ospreys brought the hour up in style, sealing the bonus point with 20 still to play. It came from a lineout on the right, the skipper providing good ball and Biggar taking it on for Owen Watkin who managed to offload in the tackle to Beck, the centre crashing over. Biggar’s imperious form with the boot continued and the score was now 34-10.
It looked like try number five had arrived shortly after, Hassler doing good work up the right before freeing Tom Habberfield who finished well from 25m out but a belated referral to the TMO saw the score chalked off, the pass clearly going forward.
The respite was only temporary for Connacht though, the Ospreys crafting a lovely score that saw the ball moved the width of the field through the backs hands, Dirksen finishing it off by the corner flag. Biggar thought he had nailed the most difficult kick of the night, only to see his conversion come back off the outside of the near post.
The Ospreys survived a period of prolonged pressure on their line as Connacht looked to add a gloss to the scoreline, dogged defence keeping them at bay, but were unable to trouble the scorers themselves any further.
The Ospreys now end their PRO14 campaign with three games on the road on consecutive weekends, against Ulster, Zebre and Cardiff Blues.