The Ospreys leave Galway empty handed despite a battling performance against PRO12 leaders Connacht as both teams ran in three tries.
- Two early tries put Connacht 14-3 clear inside 12 minutes
- Ben John, Dan Baker and Rhys Webb touch down for the Ospreys to haul Connacht back, and they trail by five points with 15 minutes to go
- Referee and TMO then rule out Sam Davies try that would have levelled the game and given the Ospreys a try bonus point as a minimum return from the contest
- Ospreys return to Ireland next weekend to face Leinster on Saturday afternoon
Two early Connacht tries meant that the visitors trailed 14-3 inside 12 minutes but touchdowns from Ben John, Dan Baker and Rhys Webb meant that it was delicately poised with the Ospreys trailing by five when TMO Jude Quinn controversially ruled out a Sam Davies try that would have drawn his team level with the conversion to come and under 15 minutes to play.
Almost immediately, Connacht went up the other end and scored a penalty, which took away even a losing bonus point as the Ospreys hammered on the Connacht line without success in the closing minutes.
It was worst possible start for the Ospreys, John knocking on as he looked to collect the kick-off, and Connacht made them pay, pressing from the resulting scrum to score the first try inside two minutes, Bundee Aki going over for a score converted by his midfield partner Craig Ronaldson.
A penalty for holding on allowed Davies to reply instantly, his kick from in front of the posts getting the Ospreys side of the scoreboard moving, before the Ospreys suffered a blow when Springbok centre JJ Engelbrecht limped off in the eighth minute to be replaced by young Owen Watkin.
Connacht then extended their lead when Niyi Adeolokun took advantage of poor defending to put AJ Macginty through, Ronaldson converting to make it 14-3.
In a frantic opening period the Ospreys came straight back at Connacht and, awarded a penalty in front of the posts for hands in the ruck, Davies showed great awareness to go quickly, sending it wide to John who powered his way over to score. The touchline conversion attempt proved just too much for Davies, who saw his kick come back off the post.
Ronaldson was off target with a penalty after Webb was caught with his hands in the ruck before the Ospreys struck again. It was another quick tap penalty that caught Connacht out, this time Webb in control close to the line, and there was no stopping Baker. Davies added the extras and the Ospreys led by a point with 25 minutes played.
Ronaldson restored Connacht’s lead a couple of minutes later, but the Ospreys pressed again as half-time approached, John released in space on the left wing, only to be stopped inches short by a great Ronaldson tackle to prevent the score.
HALF-TIME: CONNACHT 17 OSPREYS 15
Early second half pressure from Connacht saw them twice going to the corner in an attempt to maul their way over the line, but on both occasions, the Ospreys defence were able to spoil effectively, halting the green wave short of the line.
The pressure eventually told however, Connacht’s third try of the night coming in the 51st minute as Matt Healy found his way through midfield too easily to score, Ronaldson adding the extras.
The Ospreys hit straight back and grabbed their own third try with 55 minutes gone. Davies and Josh Matavesi combined well to set up the opportunity for Webb to go under the posts on his first regional start of the season, leaving Davies with a simple conversion to bring his team back to within two points.
A Ronaldson penalty took the gap back out to five points, before the Ospreys then thought they had drawn level with what would have been their fourth try, securing the bonus point in the process, only to have the score wiped off by the officials.
It was Jeff Hassler who launched an attack from inside his own 22, carrying powerfully over halfway and, after a delightful show and go took out two defenders, Davies was able to glide through the Connacht defence and race towards the corner where Kieran Marmion, it seemed, failed with a despairing attempt to bring him down, the Ospreys youngster able to dab the ball down for what looked a perfectly good score.
Celebrations were cut short however when it was referred upstairs by referee George Clancy, who wanted to check a double movement by Davies. Despite replays appearing to show that Davies hadn’t been held and, therefore, was able to complete the score, Mr Quinn somehow ruled that the tackle had been completed and awarded the penalty to Connacht.
To rub salt into Ospreys wounds, a missed tackle in midfield then allowed Connacht into the danger area, Bundee Aki on a bustling run upfield, and Ronaldson made no mistake with a penalty just a couple of minutes later to take Connacht eight clear.
To their credit, the young Ospreys refused to throw the towel in and kept going in search of that fourth try which would have been enough to secure both a try and a losing bonus.
They thought they’d managed when Hassler and Webb combined to set up Olly Cracknell, the flanker crashing towards the line to be stopped inches short. With a man over on the left, Webb then swung the ball towards James King on the touchline but he was unable to find his team-mate, the ball ricocheting into touch for a Connacht lineout.
Still the Ospreys pushed but there was no way back and they were left to reflect on a lack of accuracy at key moments and a TMO decision that left the entire crowd at the Sportsground scratching their heads.