Saracens came out on top in an entertaining pre-season encounter at the historic Honourable Artillery Company on Thursday evening.
Sam Cross and Scott Otten touched down either side of the half-time interval as Allen Clarke fielded different line-ups in each period, but it was the hosts who took the honours a week out from the start of the new season.
The first score of the evening went to the home team seven minutes in after a period of pressure on the Ospreys line. Saracens probed left and right, eventually creating a gap in midfield for centre Alex Lozowski to drift outside the cover and score, Ben Spencer converting.
The Ospreys responded brightly, matching their opponents across the field, and when awarded a penalty in front of the posts opted for a scrum instead of taking the three. Saracens were penalised, Aled Davies tapped and went quickly, setting up his half back partner and namesake Sam, who was stopped just short of the line.
It was Saracens who scored next however, just past the midway point of the half, going to the corner after an Ospreys player was guilty of not rolling away. They set up camp in the 22 and, after several attempts it was Richard Barrington who got the ball down, the extras again coming from Spencer.
Within minutes the Ospreys were on the scoreboard, Aled Davies with the box kick for George North to chase, the winger reading the bouncing ball well to collect and carry the ball before finding Cross in support. The back rower still had an awful lot to do out wide but he showed good strength to finish it off, Sam Davies converting from the touchline.
As half-time approaches the hosts grabbed a third try in controversial circumstances. With the ball secure at a ruck in from of the Ospreys posts there seemed little danger as scrum-half Davies looked to get the ball out, only for his opposite number to interfere, forcing the ball to ground. As play stopped with everyone on the field anticipating an Ospreys penalty, big second row Will Skelton simply strode forward to pick up the loose ball and score, the referee’s whistle never coming.
Spencer converted and Saracens led by 14 points and, although the lively Tom Williams almost created something for himself with a chip and chase, the half-time scoreline possibly reflected unfairly on the Ospreys thanks to Skelton’s late try.
HALF-TIME: SARACENS 21-7 OSPREYS
With the Ospreys sending on 14 replacements at the break, it didn’t take long for the new line-up to settle, despite the Saracens starting line-up remaining largely unchanged.
Good pressure on halfway saw Saracens losing possession, Rhodri Jones hacking the ball upfield to allow Luke Morgan an early opportunity to show his pace. The winger was stopped just short of the line, as was Otten, but the hooker did better 30 second later, finishing well off a maul. Luke Price converted to bring his team back to within seven.
As the visitors continued to look bright Saracens opted to take the three points via Spencer’s boot in the 50th minute after the Ospreys had been penalised on the floor.
As is always the case in these pre-season games, the second half lost it’s shape and pattern but nevertheless remained entirely absorbing, typified by a spell of pressure on the Ospreys line as multiple close range efforts from the Saracens pack came to nothing, Alex Jeffries eventually winning the turnover.
Saracens grabbed one final try, Christopher Tolofua driving over from the line-out, Lozowski converting, and although the home team ended the game a man short following a yellow card for Duncan Taylor, killing the ball as the Ospreys pressed ominously, there was no further scoring.
Focus now turns to back to back home games at the Liberty Stadium to kick off the new Guinness PRO14 season, Edinburgh the visitors in Round 1 on Friday 31st August before Cheetahs come to Swansea the following weekend.