A Jerry Collins try isn't enough to prevent the Ospreys slipping to a second successive Liberty Stadium defeat.
Indiscipline up front ultimately proved costly as Leinster outside half Jonathan Sexton kicked five penalties as the Ospreys were forced to settle for a losing bonus point.
The Ospreys were led out by centre Andrew Bishop, who was making his 100th appearance for the region, while Lee Byrne and Tommy Bowe were handed their first starts since the summer’s Lions tour. Along with Alun-Wyn Jones on the bench and the continued presence in the 22 of fellow Lions Mike Phillips and James Hook, there was a pleasant surprise for Ospreys fans, with a late change to the named matchday squad seeing Shane Williams also taking his place amongst the replacements having recovered from routine surgery on his shoulder in July.
The opening stages were very much nip and tuck with the two number 10’s, Jonathan Sexton and James Hook, exchanging early penalties from close range as the two sides arm wrestled for early superiority. The Ospreys survived a scare after Hook failed to gather a high ball, resulting in an attacking scrum under the posts. After several attempts, referee Peter Allan finally lost patience with the Leinster scrum, awarding the Ospreys a penalty to large cheers from the home support. However, indiscipline from Craig Mitchell allowed Sexton the opportunity to nudge his side back in front just before the 15 minute mark.
The Ospreys defence then past it’s first real test of the night as the European champions laid siege to their try-line, going through the phases as they bashed at the door. Not only did the Ospreys line stay unbreached, but a turnover allowed Byrne to clear. In the resulting chase Leinster were penalised for holding on, providing Hook with the chance to level the scores, only to see his effort drift wide. That huge defensive effort seemed to provide a spark for both the Ospreys players and fans, and moments later a neat passing move on the 22 saw the hosts create space wide, but Nutbrown’s long pass was just out of Bowe’s reach.
With the Ospreys starting to gain the upper hand, the first try of the night wasn’t long in coming, and it was Jerry Collins who claimed the five points in the 27th minute to put his side ahead for the first time. After kicking to the corner for the line-out, the Ospreys pack rumbled over with Collins downing the ball for his second try of the season, Hook missing the conversion to leave it 8-6. Sexton then spurned the chance to provide an immediate response, his penalty two minutes later fading to the right of the posts after the Ospreys had been penalised for being in front of the kicker.
As the game swung the other way towards the end of the first half, Sexton missed another kickable penalty from a central position midway in the Ospreys half after Mitchell was penalised in the scrum. It was Sexton who then broke through the combined tackle of Hook and Bishop to burst into the 22 before being up-ended by the covering Byrne.
The Ospreys were reduced to 14 in the 38th minute when Collins was sin-binned for an indiscretion in the maul, much to the annoyance of the home support. With Leinster then opting for a series of scrums as they looked to take full advantage of Collins absence, Duncan Jones was spoken to Mr Allan for not binding correctly, and when the scrum went down once more, the loosehead followed Collins to the touchline, leaving the Ospreys with just 13 players on the pitch. The Ospreys were up to the challenge though, and after a good drive from the next scrum, the visitors were penalised, allowing Hook to clear to the loudest cheer of the night so far, ensuring that the Ospreys went in at the break with their lead intact.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 8 LEINSTER 6
The second half began in a similar vein to the first, with Sexton and Hook exchanging penalties in the opening minutes. Having ridden the Leinster storm, Collins and Jones returned to the fray, taking the Ospreys back to their full complement, and the Ospreys once again began to enjoy a great deal of possession and territory, without being able to find a way through the visitors strong defence.
As the hour mark approached, the Ospreys sent on their three replacement Lions, Williams, Jones and Phillips, who replaced Bishop, Nutbrown and Thomas, with Bowe moving to centre as part of the reshuffle.
Despite the Ospreys remaining in the ascendancy, it was Leinster who scored next, Shaun Berne picking off a loose Williams pass to charge forward before being brought down in the shadow of the posts by Hook, and after the ball was recycled, fullback Isa Nacewa was on hand to drop a goal from close range to hand his side a 12-11 lead with a quarter of an hour remaining.
The Ospreys responded by introducing Dan Biggar, Paul James and Richard Hibbard for Hook, Mitchell and Huw Bennett as they looked to regain the lead, but as they chased the match their play became increasingly ragged, with Sexton slotting home two late penalties to take the game away from the home team and despite some late pressure from the men in black, there was no way back.