The Ospreys kicked off their South African tour with an impressive bonus point win over Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Led out by Hanno Dirksen on his 100th Championship appearance, against the club his father, Hansie, represented with distinction in the eighties, the Ospreys would have been delighted to see the field covered in shade as the Bloemfontein sun began to set.
There was an early change in the front row for the visitors, and it was Dirksen’s fellow South African, Tom Botha, who exited just seven minutes in with what looked like an arm injury, cutting short his return to his former club.
As anticipated, the opening exchanges saw the Cheetahs looking to move it at every opportunity, constantly looking to work the PRO14 top scorer Rabz Maxwane into space, while at the other end, the Cheetahs cover had to be alert to the danger when Cory Allen dinked the ball behind the defence for Keelan Giles to chase.
As the game moved towards the midway point of the first half the Ospreys slowly began to take control, a series of penalties against the hosts seeing them receive a team warning. However, they failed to take advantage of a good position at an attacking throw five metres from the Cheetahs line, the home pack winning turnover ball to send the ball back deep into the opposition 22 where Dirksen did well to beat William Small-Smith in the race for possession.
The first score of the evening went to the Ospreys 25 minutes in, and it was another score for Evans, his 41st in total, after his four try tally last time out.
It came after a scrappy spell in midfield, both teams coughing up possession cheaply before Cory Allen managed to calm things down. He fed Dirksen who carried strongly before the ball was worked right to left across the field, the fullback running a great line to take the ball at pace and score.
Price converted, and he did the same again five minutes later as the Ospreys celebrated try number two. It was a lovely score, sparked by Owen Watkin ripping the ball in the tackle, allowing Dirksen to burst clear, coming infield from the right. Aled Davies, Adam Beard and Price all did well before the ball was again moved across field where the Ospreys had men over, Cracknell going over for the score.
Strong running from Abongile Nonkontwana and Dries Swanepoel took the Cheetahs into the Ospreys 22 where Dirksen was penalised for some over eagerness at the ruck. The hosts went to the corner and looked to rumble their way over, but the Ospreys pack held firm, and were rewarded with the scrum. A penalty in their favour at the ensuing setpiece allowed Price to clear into the Cheetahs half.
It was starting to get a bit spiky out there as the home team looked to find a score before the break but a combination of well organised, solid defence and unforced handling errors, meant the South Africans failed to find a way through.
HALF-TIME: TOYOTA CHEETAHS 0-14 OSPREYS
The message in the dressing room would have been to keep it tight in the opening exchanges but the Cheetahs were over the line inside two minutes of the restart, going from inside their own 22 to score.
Barend Janse van Rensburg broke from deep, carrying over halfway, but it looked as though the danger had been snuffed out via some lung busting defensive work from Tipuric, who got back to haul down Shaun Venter 30m out.
However, Cheetahs recycled well and, eventually, it was Swanepoel who glided through for an easy finish, converted by Tian Schoeman.
Despite that disappointment, the Ospreys hit straight back and grabbed their third try immediately. The restart from Sam Davies, on for Price at the break, was long, deep inside the Cheetahs 22, and when the hosts were penalised, Malcolm Jaer not releasing, Tipuric was alert, tapping and going from just six metres or so out to score. Davies added the extras and the scoreboard showed a 14-point lead for the Ospreys.
A penalty for blocking on halfway, Tipuric eased our of the way by Joseph Dweba to make room for Maxwane, allowed the Ospreys to go to the corner in search of try number four.
They thought they’d grabbed it when, with a penalty advantage in their favour, Watkin sent through a little grubber for his centre partner Cory Allen to chase, grounding under the posts, However, it was referred upstairs for a check, the TMO chalking the score off, Allen in front of the kicker.
Allen was not to be denied though, and he was celebrating the bonus point just a few minutes later, rounding off a prolonged spell of pressure to take the scoring pass just a couple of metres from the line off Evans, after Dirksen had punched his way close to the line.
Davies’ conversion was good, the score now 7-28 with 25 minutes still to play.
As the clock ticked down and the Ospreys looked to kill the game, off, they opted to go for the sticks for the first time 67 minutes in, Davies splitting the posts from 30m out to stretch his team’s lead to 24 points.
Cheetahs came back at the Ospreys, looking to find a way through, and the Ospreys were forced to play out the final 10 minutes a man short when Adam Beard was shown a yellow card for collapsing an ominous looking maul that was rolling towards the Ospreys line.
The home team took full advantage of the extra man in the pack, going back to the corner and this time, going all the way over whitewash, Reinach Venter scoring, the extras coming from Schoeman.
There was no dramatic recovery on the cards though as the Ospreys played out the final minutes with ease, the five points a perfect start to their two game visit to South Africa.