The Ospreys got 2012 off to a winning start with a win over Cardiff Blues to strengthen their grip on second place in the RaboDirect PRO12 table.
Tommy Bowe scored the only try of the game while Matthew Morgan and Dan Biggar kicked two penalties apiece as the Ospreys ended a three-game losing run. Leigh Halfpenny responded with three penalties, before a late Dan Parks drop-goal threatened to spoil the evening for more than 11,000 supporters inside the Liberty Stadium.
An early scare for the hosts saw Jonathan Thomas receiving lengthy treatment after he injured himself contesting Barry Davies’ kick-off, but they were able to take the early initiative, Morgan slotting over a straightforward penalty inside 120 seconds after Blues players were guilty of not rolling away.
The young fly-half then brought the Liberty crowd to their feet with an instinctive run from just outside his 22, scything through the midfield before Alex Cuthbert was able to read his grubber, allowing the Blues defence to clear. However, their skipper Paul Tito prevented a quick throw being taken and was duly penalised, Morgan making it 6-0 with less than four minutes on the clock.
Good work by Jonathan Thomas saw the Ospreys steal at a Blues lineout five metres from their own line, good ball eventually being presented for Morgan who spotted an overlap to his right. Unfortunately, Bowe was unable to control the ball as he went for the line, losing it in the tackle.
The Ospreys were playing with confidence and looking to move the ball at every opportunity but a pass from Bowe, looking for Tom Smith who was on for James King who had left the field with a blood injury, was intercepted on halfway by hooker Marc Breeze. The former Osprey had a clear run in to the line in front of him, but not unexpectedly, the Irish wing was able to make up the ground to halt his progress on the 22m line.
Justin Tipuric won good turnover ball to allow Morgan another run at the Blues defence, referee Nigel Owens deciding there was no obstruction as the young fly-half went down as he chased his own grubber.
However, minutes later there was another penalty to the hosts, Breeze guilty of hands in the ruck, but on this occasion Morgan pulled his effort across the face of the posts and well wide.
At the midway point of the first half Ryan Jones was penalised for not releasing the player following the tackle, and Leigh Halfpenny struck from halfway to open the Blues account, his penalty going over off the upright.
After a bright start the game was starting to get a bit messy, a Shane Williams knock on as Andrew Bishop looked to feed the wing after carrying well in midfield summing things up.
A penalty against Adam Jones at the scrum gave Halfpenny another opportunity to for goal from distance, his effort just having the legs to level things in the 27th minute.
Another promising move came to nothing for the Ospreys when Richard Hibbard knocked on Bowe’s pass in midfield, before Casey Laulala’s arcing run was causing consternation for the home defence until he collided with his own player.
With the clock out of time, the Ospreys looked to launch one final first half attack but Ashley Beck’s knock-on on halfway was the last act before the ref’s whistle.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 6 CARDIFF BLUES 6
A penalty against Josh Navidi for not rolling away gave Morgan a chance to restore the Ospreys lead two minutes after the restart, but his kick from a central position on the 10m line fell short.
Some patient play then allowed the Ospreys to work their way into the Blues 22 through numerous phases, Morgan’s footwork creating space before he just failed to find Bishop with his pass.
The first 10 minutes of the second half had been all Ospreys, and they got their reward with the game’s first try on 50 minutes. A solid scrum in a central position on the Blues 22 allowed George Stowers to pick up at the base before feeding Kahn Fotuali’i who kept the ball moving quickly to Beck. He stepped inside the defender and passed to Tom Isaacs who supplied the scoring pass to Bowe, the wing sliding over despite the best efforts of Gavin Henson and Navidi. Morgan missed the conversion, leaving the score at 11-6 in the Ospreys favour.
The Blues came back at the Ospreys from the restart, Xavier Rush carrying well before the wings Cuthbert and Halfpenny combined well. The home defence had to be alert, Bevington halting Halfpenny’s progress before fullback Barry Davies jackalled well to win the turnover close to his own line.
Halfpenny reduced the deficit with his third successful penalty attempt nine minutes later after Ryan Jones was penalised for playing the ball on the floor.
The Ospreys were in the ascendancy but unable to penetrate the Blues defence, so they gratefully accepted a penalty against Scott Andrews for a deliberate knock-on close to the touchline, but Dan Biggar, just on for Morgan, couldn’t find his range and the three points went begging.
The missed kicks proved costly when the Blues snatched the lead for the first time, with just 10 minutes remaining. The Ospreys lost possession at a defensive lineout on their own 22, allowing the Blues to play for field position, before Dan Parks slotted over a simple drop goal to make it 12-11 in the visitors favour.
At the other end, Mike Paterson knocked on attempting to steal an Ospreys lineout on the Blues 22, and the resulting scrum saw a huge shove from the home pack driving the opposition backwards, Joe Bearman controlling the ball well at the base, and when the set-piece went down the penalty went the Ospreys way allowing Biggar to put his team back in front with just eight to go.
It was on a knife edge, but the Ospreys were able to hold their opponents at bay as the clock ticked down, and after Henson knocked on attempting to gather an up and under just outside his 22 with 90 seconds to go, an almost identical situation saw a massive Ospreys scrum result in another penalty.
Biggar took his full minute to prepare himself before slotting it straight down the middle with the final kick of the game to seal a 17-12 win.