Tries from Eli Walker and Ashley Beck helped the Ospreys to a hard earned win over Newport Gwent Dragons on New Year's Eve.
The Ospreys led from the third minute, and although their line was rarely seriously threatened, they showed plenty of grit and determination to secure only a second ever PRO12 win at Rodney Parade.
The Ospreys got the dream start, Walker sliding over to score the game’s first try after just three minutes.
It had been all Ospreys in the first 180 seconds, the Dragons not setting foot in the opposition half after Dan Biggar’s kick-off, and a well worked move that saw the ball being switched from right to left allowed Richard Fussell to swing a long pass out to the flank for Walker who just managed to get over and ground it despite the best efforts of Will Harries, TMO Paul Adams confirming the try.
Biggar added the extras, before former Osprey Tom Prydie was less successful at the other end, missing with a penalty a minute or so later after Richard Hibbard was late going in on Toby Faletau.
Despite the early setback the Dragons were looking bright, taking the game to their visitors, and after Sam Lewis was pinged for holding onto the ball, too much chat from skipper Kahn Fotuali’i saw the penalty being marched 10m upfield, giving Prydie a straightforward kick to get his team on the scoreboard 13 minutes in.
There was a frantic pace to the game and the Ospreys defence did well to frustrate the Dragons after a knock-on on the visitors 22 gave the home side a platform to attack from. Although they kept the ball alive using the full width of the field, with big hitters like Faletau and Andy Tuilagi involved, they were unable to find a way through, the penalty eventually going the way of the Ospreys.
An overthrow on his own 10m line from Dragons hooker Sam Parry allowed Fotuali’i to steal possession and drive his team forward, and after the ball had been moved left to Tom Isaacs the centre found his way to the line blocked only for Nick Cudd to be penalised for coming into the ruck from the side. Biggar went for goal from close to the touchline but his effort was well wide much to the delight of the vocal home support.
With the pitch becoming increasingly boggy both teams were finding it difficult to gain any real momentum with ball in hand, so the boot was beginning to dominate.
A penalty against Jonathan Evans for not releasing the ball on halfway was taken forward 10m for talking back to referee Nigel Owens, but although it seemed in kicking territory Biggar’s effort fell well short of the sticks.
With half-time approaching the Ospreys were able to set up camp in Dragons territory once more, but as was the case when the Dragons had enjoyed their spell of possession, it was sideways rugby that never looked likely to hurt the opposition defence and the first period petered out, a knock-on in midfield summing up the opening 40 minutes.
HALF-TIME: NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS 3 OSPREYS 7
As had been the case in the first half the Ospreys were on the offensive straight from the first whistle, and a scrum penalty inside their own half allowed Biggar to put his team deep into Dragons territory.
From the resulting lineout, Fotuali’i’s box kick to the corner put the Dragons under pressure and Jonathan Evans’ hand knocked the ball dead as Walker looked to fall on the loose ball. The decision was an attacking scrum five, Mr Owens deciding against the option of yellow card and a penalty try.
However, with the five-metre scrum the Ospreys pack would have been confident of damaging the opposition, only for the penalty to go the other way, the decision being that the visiting front row had collapsed the setpiece despite rumbling forward towards the line.
The alertness of Fotuali’i almost led to an opportunistic second try, his charge down from Lewis Robling’s attempted clearance from a lineout inside the Dragons 22 bouncing into the dead ball area, only to ricochet away from the scrum half and out of play as he chased through in the hope of gathering and grounding.
The first 10 minutes after the restart had been played almost entirely in Dragons territory and Prydie showed good awareness to read Biggar’s chip over the defence and get back to gather behind his own line ahead of the chasing Ross Jones.
There was still just four points in it as the hour mark clocked up, but the Ospreys had dominated the second half without being able to turn their possession and territory into points.
However, the pressure finally told with the second try eventually coming in the 63rd minute, Biggar charging down Robling’s attempted clearance from in front of his own posts and the bounce falling perfectly for Beck, just on the field. In his perfect white shirt the centre was able to dab down for the score, Biggar picking himself up to add the extras.
The rain began hammering down as the contest moved into the final 10 minutes, and although the Dragons tried to rouse themselves there was no way back for them as the Ospreys held on to secure the win.