A thoroughly professional performance in difficult conditions saw the Ospreys come out on top at the Sportsground on Saturday evening, keeping them at the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table.
Matthew Morgan scored 12 points, including a first half try, while Sonny Parker also touched down, as the Ospreys made it just the one defeat in nine league games this season, setting up next Saturday’s big game against Munster at the Liberty Stadium nicely.
The Ospreys made a bright start playing into a typically strong Galway wind, looking to run the ball at every opportunity, but the blustery conditions meant that Connacht were able to pin back their opponents at every attempt through the boot of Miah Nikora.
It was Nikora who had the first opportunity for points after 10 minutes though when Gough was penalised at the lineout but his kick from the 22 drifted wide at the last moment despite seeming to just about have the direction.
Good defence from Rhys Webb then prevented Connacht from grabbing the opening try, his opposite number Paul O’Donohoe sniping at the base of a ruck, only for Webb to read his move and come across to cover, forcing the knock-on as he tried to bundle the Connacht scrum-half into touch by the corner flag.
Despite having the scrum, the Ospreys struggled to clear their lines given the strength of the wind they were playing into, and Connacht’s pressure eventually told, Chauncey O’Toole pinged for coming in from the side, allowing Mikora to open the score 15 minutes in.
The Ospreys responded by putting together a series of phases through patient play that took them up to their opponents 22, and when Rodney Ah You was guilty of a similar offence at the breakdown Morgan levelled things with a kick that swayed left and right in the air before eventually splitting the posts.
Connacht then enjoyed a lengthy spell of pressure without really troubling the Ospreys defence, and they were made to pay the price when the visitors snatched the lead on the half hour mark with a well worked try that was made in Bridgend. Webb showed good awareness at a ruck, spotting the gap between John Muldoon and Brett Wilkinson to burst into the 22, where he offloaded to Morgan on his shoulder and the 19-year old showed nifty footwork to sidestep Gavin Duffy to go over and score, converting his own try.
Having just scored though the Ospreys were caught napping at the restart and an offside offence allowed Mikora to hit straight back, making it 10-6 with five minutes left in the first half.
A neat grubber to the corner from Richard Fussell then troubled the Connacht defence and after patient work from the Ospreys, looking to create an opening, they eventually worked an overlap to the left only for Andrew Bishop’s pass to go behind Richard Hibbard out wide, the hooker knocking on as he looked to gather five metres out.
Connacht were in all sorts of trouble at the resulting scrum, being driven back to their own line, but as it went down the Ospreys were guilty of interfering with the ball on the floor, allowing their opponents to clear.
HALF-TIME: CONNACHT 6 OSPREYS 10
The hosts enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges after the break, a number of penalties conceded by the Ospreys eventually resulting in a team warning being issued, and the ref’s patience eventually wore out five minutes in when Ian Gough was sinbinned on the touch judge’s advice following an apparent offence at the lineout.
Understandably given their numerical advantage Connacht had the upper hand, always looking to work their way upfield patiently with ball in hand as they played in to the wind, but all too frequently, the boot of Morgan or Barry Davies would put them back downfield where they started. On one such occasion, Connacht were pinged for crossing as they looked to run it back, but Morgan’s long range penalty was off target.
Having absorbed considerable pressure while down to 14, back up to their full complement the Ospreys were next to strike, Parker scoring the second try of the night. Duncan Jones, making his 150th appearance, was the unlikely catalyst charging upfield from a lineout, George Stowers carried well, before Bishop and Fussell combined, the wing giving the scoring pass to Parker, on for Ashley Beck. Morgan’s conversion took the Ospreys 11 points clear with an hour of the game gone.
Connacht weren’t dead yet though and they worked their way towards the Ospreys line with some intelligent pick and drives, playing the conditions well, but again, solid defence meant that the Irish side were unable to find a way through and eventually they conceded a penalty in the shadow of the Ospreys posts.
The Ospreys really should have added a third try with four minutes to go, Niall O’Connor’s knock-on allowing Morgan to break. He supplied Hanno Dirksen, who twisted and turned in an attempt to wrong foot Duffy, but with the line beckoning and Morgan in support, Dirksen opted to ignore the offload take the ball into contact and the chance was gone.
The missed opportunity didn’t matter though, as despite Connacht’s best efforts as they chased a losing bonus point there was no way through the resolute Ospreys defence as they maintained their grip on top spot.