The Ospreys were made to fight all the way at the Bridgend Ford Brewery Field as they picked up their 11th consecutive victory to keep up their hopes of progression to the Anglo-Welsh Cup last four.
- Howells scores try inside 60 seconds to give Ospreys lead
- Bristol take lead for first time with just 8 minutes to play, a second converted try putting them a point clear at 13-14
- A late score from Underhill clinches the win, as Price also kicks 10 points to guide the Ospreys to an 11th victory on the bounce
- They now travel to Coventry to face Wasps next weekend with a real shout of progressing to the semi-final for the first time since 2009
They led from the first minute, thanks to a Dafydd Howells try, through to the 72nd, when Bristol edged in front for the first time, by a solitary point, only to show great character to go back up the other end and clinch the win, Sam Underhill with a late try. Luke Price kicked 10 points.
The win means that the Ospreys are second in the pool, level on points with Exeter Chiefs and one ahead of Sale Sharks, with Worcester in fourth place and each team still in with a shout with one last game to go.
The Ospreys made a stunning start, crossing the Bristol line for their first try of the game with only 51 seconds on the clock.
It was a stunning start from the hosts, Jay Baker running the Bristol kick-off back at them, sparking a flowing attack that saw Rhys Webb, Ben John and Underhill all carrying strongly to take their team into the Bristol 22. From there it was moved the width of the field, Howells racing into the line at speed to take Joe Thomas’ pass and dissect the opposition defence, going over to score. Price converted and the Ospreys were seven clear.
The Ospreys kept up the early pressure and a free-kick in their favour at a Bristol scrum on their own line saw Webb tapping to Joe Bearman who carried strongly before Price was held up as he tried to wriggle his way over.
Price did extend the Ospreys lead a couple of minutes later, a dust-up off the ball leading to a penalty for the men in black that the young outside half from Abercrave slotted over with ease from 35m out.
Bristol had struggled to get any real momentum in their game during the first quarter but as the game reached the midway point of the first half a series of rolling mauls in Ospreys territory finally saw them making some headway, Max Crumpton dotting down for the try, converted by Billy Searle.
It was a game of contrasting styles, Bristol with their big pack preferring to keep it tight in contrast to the Ospreys more free-running style.
It looked a certain try for the visitors when the Ospreys were penalised at the scrum and debutant former All Black scrum half Alby Matthewson tapped and went quickly. He released Jack Wallace up the right flank who pinned his ears back and went for the line, with seemingly only one outcome, before the combined efforts of three men put man and ball into touch by the corner flag.
The physicality of the English side was allowing them to take control but they were getting no change from an Ospreys defence that was proving as difficult to breakdown as ever.
A penalty against Rhodri Jones at the scrum with time just about up in the first half gave Bristol one long-range shot at goal but Searle’s kick was never going to find the posts.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 10 BRISTOL 7
There was a setback right at the start of the second half when John was sent to the sidelines for 10 minutes after he brought down the Bristol maul illegally.
With the extra man Bristol were dominating possession and territory, without ever looking like finding a way through, and with John stood on the touchline waiting to re-enter the action the Ospreys launched a counter-attack from inside their own 22.
Joe Thomas and Adam Beard combined well to take their team up to the Bristol 10m line before referee Dan Jones somehow managed to penalise the hosts for crossing, much to the annoyance of the home support.
John did then come back on, the Ospreys still leading by three despite being a man down for 10 minutes.
Having absorbed so much pressure it was the Ospreys who scored next, Price with the simplest of penalties from in front of the posts for not releasing after powerful carrying from Underhill and Otten had carried their team close to the Bristol line.
The visitors, using every bit of their experience and size advantage, continued to try and bash their way through but time and again, the young Ospreys were up the task of keeping them out. Baker showed up well on a number of occasions out wide, his big hits bringing Bristol’s momentum to a juddering halt.
Bristol thought they’d finally found a way through with 10 minutes to play, Searle’s grubber for former England flier Tom Varndell to chase in the corner, but John was able to get back in the nick of time, sliding over to ground the ball at the expense of a scrum five.
Pressure was mounting and, from the setpiece, Thretton Palermo was held up over the line. However, play was taken back for a penalty against the Ospreys, Bristol went to the corner and there was no stopping them on this occasion, the pack rolling over and Marc Jones applying the finishing touch.
The conversion from Searle meant that Bristol had the lead for the first time on the day with under eight minutes to play.
With timing running out there was the perfect response from the Ospreys as they gave Bristol a taste of their own medicine, a rolling maul on the left taking them deep inside the Bristol 22 line. Tyler Ardron went close before Underhill burrowed his way over to score. Price converted to put the Ospreys six clear with three minutes on the clock.
As you’d expect, Bristol looked to throw the kitchen sink at their opponents in the final minutes but wave after wave of pressure was met by a black wall and huge cheers from the stands – none moreso than when the ball eventually went to ground midway inside the Ospreys half, allowing man of the match Otten to hack it clear and, eventually, into touching, bringing to an end a gripping contest.
The Ospreys now head to the Ricoh Arena next Sunday for a 3pm kick-off against Wasps in their final Anglo-Welsh Cup match.