An Eli Walker try and 12 points from the boot of Dan Biggar inspired the Ospreys to a memorable victory over French giants Toulouse at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
After a brave but ultimately fruitless afternoon in France last Saturday the Ospreys were able to step up a gear on their home patch to record a first ever win over the four times European champions that keeps alive their hopes of progressing from Pool Two.
With the season’s highest crowd present, Steve Tandy’s side displayed grit and determination in abundance, plus no little flair and ambition, as they showed true Ospreys spirit to send their fans home in high spirits ahead of the festive derby match against the Scarlets on Boxing Day, celebrating one of the greatest wins in the short history of the region.
An early Biggar penalty, a Toulouse tackler not rolling away, gave the Ospreys the lead inside three minutes, and as they looked to build on the good start, Kahn Fotuali’i’s great kick chase put the visiting defence under pressure. Justin Tipuric snaffled the loose ball to launch an attack in the 22 only for a knock-on to allow Toulouse to clear.
It was a frenetic opening with aggressive defence on both sides forcing turnovers either way as the two teams wrestled for control of the game, a decent sized crowd creating a lively atmosphere.
Real openings were at a premium, and the Ospreys maybe should have scored the games first try on 20 minutes, A good kick chase resulted in an attacking throw on the Toulouse line. Richard Hibbard found James King, who quickly fed Ryan Jones. A path to the line opened up invitingly, the big number six went for it but Toulouse were able to close him down. The men in black recycled well though, and Biggar slotted over a drop goal to double the lead.
Toulouse flanker Patricio Albacete was then yellow carded for a stamp on Ian Gough, a needless offence as the French lineout maul rumbled forward ominously.
Despite having the extra man, the Ospreys found themselves under French pressure that duly resulted in Jean-Marc Doussain slotting over the first points of the afternoon for Toulouse two minutes before the half hour mark.
A great Ospreys scrum at a Toulouse put in on their own line saw a penalty awarded in their favour. They went for the lineout, tried to work it through the hands, and when a second penalty was awarded in their favour, under the posts, Biggar accepted the three points.
The Ospreys had played most of the half without Toulouse managing any sustained pressure, but as the clock ticked past 40 the French put together a spell of possession, edging into the home 22, but with no likely way to the line they opted for the posts and Doussain brought the half to a close with a drop goal.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 9 TOULOUSE 6
The second half began the way the first had played out, the Ospreys enjoying the better territory and possession, but Toulouse always looking dangerous with the ball, wherever on the field they were.
It was developing into a real arm wrestle, playing out mostly between the two 22’s, neither side able to land the telling blow as the game moved into the final third.
Good line out ball from Joe Bearman allowed Biggar to put in a lovely little dink over the defence for Andrew Bishop to run on to, the centre just unable to collect at full stretch on the Toulouse 10m line.
An offside against Bishop’s centre partner, Ashley Beck, allowed Toulouse to go for the posts from dead centre on the Ospreys 10m line but Doussain’s effort struck the left upright.
A great Bearman turnover on halfway allowed the hosts to launch a quick counter attack, Fotuali’i’s long miss-pass releasing Walker out wide. The young wing carried into the 22m before being halted, the ball was recycled and moved swiftly to the opposite wing where Ross Jones was bundled into touch.
Toulouse were unable to clear their lines though, the clearance from the resulting lineout staying infield, allowing the Ospreys to run it straight back. Another Walker run was halted in midfield and the touch judge brought the referee’s attention to a high tackle on the wing by Toulouse skipper Jean Bouilhou, resulting in yellow.
With the numerical advantage the Ospreys looked to keep the pressure on a lovely flowing move saw it played out wide again to Walker and this time there was no stopping the youngster as he kicked into turbo gear to score in the corner, brushing off Yoann Huget and soaring past the cover to ground it.
Biggar missed with the conversion attempt but soon the Ospreys were back on the attack, Richard Fussell running from deep inside his own half, Bishop supporting before offloading to Beck who looked to race over and ground, only for the outstretched boot of centre Gael Fickou to kick it out of his hand as he looked to ground, leaving the Ospreys holding a 17-6 lead with 15 minutes on the clock.
As you’d expect, going into the last 10 Toulouse threw everything at the Ospreys as they looked to overhaul the 11-point deficit.
A scrum penalty in their favour saw them go to the line, from where they launched a rolling maul that looked like leading to a certain try, only to be held up over the line. However, play was taken back for a Toulouse penalty, replacement Adam Jones sinbinned on his return from injury for killing the ball which meant the Ospreys were playing out the final minutes a man short.
From the resulting penalty, the visitors chose to go for a scrum on the Ospreys line but the visitors were able to disrupt the Toulouse shove and Ryan Jones reacted first as the ball squirmed out, to massive cheers from the home support, allowing the hosts to clear.
As the clock ticked down into the final minute the win was secure but Toulouse were still looking for a losing bonus point and the closings seconds saw play swing from end to end. First Bishop was able to intercept and break clear, releasing Walker who opted for the kick and chase. The Toulouse cover defence was up to the task and they launched their own counter attack, a late consolation try seemingly the only outcome as the French poured forward but the defensive chase from the Ospreys summed up the dogged performance we’d seen all afternoon, Ryan Jones shepherding play towards the wing before he, Bishop and Hibbard combined to snuff out the initial threat before Vincent Clerc’s wild pass went straight into touch, bringing to an end a great afternoon for the Ospreys.