The Ospreys booked their play-off spot with a bonus point win at the Millennium Stadium, but they were pushed all the way by the Blues in a tight contest.
It was the Blues who made all the early running, and they were leading 9-0 with just five minutes left in the first half. However, the Ospreys then racked up 31 points in as many minutes to ensure their season is extended beyond the next two fixtures.
Dan Evans, Dan Biggar, Tom Grabham and Ben John all touched down, with Biggar also kicking a further 11 points as the region extended their unbeaten run at the home of Welsh rugby to five games – three of those wins coming against today’s opponents.
The early exchanges were all about the Blues pressing and the Ospreys struggling to clear their lines, and it came as no surprise when the Cardiff based region took the lead through Gareth Anscombe’s, Alun Wyn Jones penalised for not releasing.
The Ospreys almost responded instantly, John doing a great job of collecting Biggar’s kick off in the air before racing towards the Blues’ 22 where he had Eli Walker in support, the winger bundled into touch close to the line.
From the line-out the Ospreys had a go at the maul but having seen their progress halted looked to spin it wide. The ball went to ground in the Blues 22, Josh Matavesi’s pass going behind John, and in a flash play was back at the other end, Anscombe eventually slotting over his second penalty of the afternoon in the 12th minute.
Struggling to find their early rhythm, too many unforced errors were preventing the Ospreys from building any real momentum with the game mostly being played in their half, but the visitors did manage to put some phases together as the midway point of the half approached.
It was a flowing move that saw the ball worked through the hands left and then right, before Grabham burst up the flank. Matavesi scooped up a low ball off the ground before passing to Dan Baker. He gathered at the second attempt, diving over to ground it, only for the score to be ruled out for what was adjudged a knock on by the Fijian centre.
The Blues were definitely playing the better rugby, and they almost grabbed the opening try after the ball was swept from one side of the pitch to the other, Garyn Smith going for the line only to be tackled into touch by Biggar a couple of metres out.
Anscombe’s third penalty on 28 minutes, after more sustained Blues pressure, took his side nine clear as the Ospreys continued to struggle to find their way into the contest.
The Ospreys burst into life with seven minutes or so to go until the interval, grabbing the first try of the game – and it was a beauty.
Biggar started it with a lovely break in midfield, somehow finding his way through heavy traffic to make 20m, exchanging passes with Rhys Webb before it was worked out to the right, Matavesi and Nicky Smith doing the link work to supply full back Evans who went over in the corner. Biggar converted from the touchline, bringing the Ospreys back to within two points.
HALF-TIME: CARDIFF BLUES 9 OSPREYS 7
After a disappointing first half it was essential that the Ospreys hit the ground running in the second period and they were handed an early opportunity for points but Biggar’s long range kick from just inside the Blues half was always pulling slightly to the left of the posts.
They did grab the lead in some style just a couple of minutes later though, through another well-worked try. Walker did well to take a high ball under pressure on his 10m line, and after it was recycled well, skipper Alun Wyn Jones burst over the halfway line, carrying almost to the 22m line where he popped it off to Biggar, the fly half going on an arcing run around the cover to score. He picked himself up to convert and the score was Blues 9 Ospreys 14 with 45 gone.
The Ospreys were now on top and try three duly arrived five minutes later. It came from a line out on the left, quick hands moving it across the field, and Evans hit the line at speed before supplying the final pass to Grabham. The winger pinged his ears back and went for the line, beating the challenge of Garyn Smith and Patchell to score in the corner. Biggar again made no mistake with his touchline kick and the Ospreys now led by 12.
As the Blues looked to hit straight back it was the same pairing of Patchell and Smith who were involved at the other end as the fullback fed his centre on the right. Smith went for the line only for a last ditch tackle from Walker to put him in touch as he grounded, the TMO confirming no try via the Hawkeye system.
However, the Ospreys players were back under their posts within a minute, a Blues lineout giving them a platform to attack from where Josh Navidi was able to drift through non-existent defending to score under the posts, giving Gareth Davies the simplest of conversions.
Biggar was then able to bring up the hour with a penalty from the 22m line after the Blues were pinged at the scrum, which meant the Ospreys led 24-16 going into the final quarter.
The fourth try, and with it the bonus point, arrived in the 67th minute, a score started by John inside his own 22 and finished by the same player under the posts.
It was a lovely move, John and Evans both making some 20m before some lovely hands saw Alun Wyn Jones, Baker and Justin Tipuric all involved before the Loughor man crossed for the score, going infield to make Biggar’s conversion easier.
With the game over as a contest the Ospreys continued pressing the Blues line and a fifth try went begging when they failed to take advantage of an overlap on the left, the final pass from replacement Sam Davies drifting forward as Walker looked certain to score.
Still the Ospreys kept going and then, with time up, just as it looked as though they’d worked another overlap on the other side, Dan Fish read the pass well to intercept and race the length of the field to score, his try converted by Anscombe to bring the game to a close.
The win means that the Ospreys have secured both a place in next season’s European Rugby Champions Cup and the end of season play-off with two games still to play, and now face a huge game at the Liberty Stadium against Glasgow on Friday 8th May that could decide which of the two teams earn themselves a home semi-final two weeks later.
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