The Ospreys came from behind to claim a famous win over French giants Clermont Auvergne on Friday night to move to the top of Pool 2 with just one round to go.
- Ospreys come back from behind to clinch a crucial win over French giants that sees the region take control of Pool 2 with one game to play
- Dan Biggar kicked 6 first half points before Sam Davies added 15 after the break
- The Ospreys have still to lose at the Liberty against French opposition, winning 11 and drawing two in 13 games
- Next for the Ospreys is the difficult trip to Sandy Park to face Premiership high flyers Exeter on Sunday 24th January
On a tense night at the Liberty Stadium, the visitors led from the sixth minute but a performance full of character and determination saw the Ospreys dig in, taking the lead with just 13 minutes remaining before eventually denying their opponents even the consolation of a losing bonus point.
The win means the Ospreys go into their final fixture next weekend against Exeter at Sandy Park with their destiny in their own hands as they hunt down a first quarter-final appearance in six years.
All the Ospreys points came from the boot, Biggar kicking two first half penalties before going off injured, his replacement Sam Davies then guiding the home team to victory with four penalties and a drop goal. Outstanding defence meant that Clermont failed to score a single point in the second half.
It was the worst possible start for the Ospreys though, falling behind to the first try of the game inside six minutes. An early Clermont penalty on their 22 allowed them to put the ball up the other end and, following phase after phase of one-up rugby, the visitors were eventually able to work a gap in the Ospreys defence, Camille Lopez piercing the line before offloading to Wesley Fofana who went over from just a coupe of metres out.
Morgan Parra converted but the Ospreys’ first points came just a couple of minutes later, Biggar with a 40m kick, Clermont penalised for not rolling away.
The opening exchanges were fast and furious, and it was a moment of pure madness from Clermont’s Viktor Kolelishvili that allowed the Ospreys to narrow the gap to a point in the 18th minute.
As the Ospreys showed patience to work their way into the 22 with textbook pick and drive tactics, the openside felt that referee Wayne Barnes was in his way and opted to give the official a huge shove, resulting in a telling off and a simple three pointer for Biggar.
The gap was back to four immediately though, Eli Walker penalised for tackling Dave Strettle in the air as the two wings contested the restart and Parra did the necessary to take the score back to 10-6 in favour of the French side.
There was a lengthy delay on 25 minutes after an incident on the ground at a ruck got the home crowd in the East Stand up in arms. It was referred upstairs to the TMO, the decision eventually seeing Kolelishvili going to the bin for 10 minutes for an elbow in the throat of Alun Wyn.
Instead of taking the points, with an extra man the Ospreys went for the corner only to be turned over as they attempted the drive. Awarded another penalty a minute later Biggar pointed to the posts, only to see his kick from 45m out come back off the left hand post.
The Ospreys were then able to turn defence into attack with a swift counter attack after Fritz Lee knocked on on the hosts 22. A good kick chase from Walker, racing up in pursuit of Biggar’s long kick, led to Noa Nakaitaci rushing his clearance kick on his own 22 and slicing it straight to Biggar.
He fed it to Walker who ignored Brendon Leonard on his outside, opting ito nudge the ball ahead only to find his path blocked by David Strettle, cleverly holding his positiion, allowing the ball to run dead.
Clermont were restored to 15 men with no change to the scoreboard, and just a minute or so later Parra extended their lead with another penalty after the Ospreys offended as they attempted to halt a Clermont rolling maul.
As the hosts looked to end the first half positively, they were handed another sight of goal with the clock showing 40 minutes but Biggar was again unable to split the uprights, his kick from the right going across the face of goal and wide of the posts.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 6 CLERMONT AUVERGNE 13
Paul James was penalised for not rolling away within 40 seconds of the restart but this time, fortunately, Parra’s radar was well off as he sent his long range kick well wide.
The Ospreys then suffered a setback when Biggar limped out of the action clutching his thigh in the 48th minute. His replacement Davies’ first duty was to put his team in the Clermont 22 after a late tackle by Kolelishvili that saw the Georgian receive a final warning from Mr Barnes following his earlier yellow.
After the Ospreys’ attack came to nothing, the next action from the Clermont bench was a wise one, calling time on the openside’s involvement.
Just as it looked as though Clermont were going to force a second try, Nakaitaci collecting a loose ball on halfway and making 30m to take his team deep into the Ospreys 22, Justin Tipuric somehow emerged out of the side of the ruck with ball in hand to launch a counter up the left with great support from Leonard that eventually resulted in a penalty, Davies making no mistake from 35m out.
It was to prove a turning point in the contest.
With an hour gone there was just four points separating the teams and the gap was soon down to one, Davies slotting over a drop goal from 15m out after some old fashioned grunt from the forwards took them into scoring range.
The Ospreys were taking a stranglehold on the contest and almost grabbed their first try on 65 minutes, Jones carrying well to almost make the line before Leonard was held up, With a two man overlap it was moved wide, only for Dan Baker’s pass to be intercepted by Camille Lopez who looked set to race away for what would have been a length of the field score, only for play to be brought back for a penalty to the Ospreys, John Ulugia sent to the bin after an offside call.
Davies made no mistake with the penalty and the Ospreys led for the first time on the night, with just a little over 10 minutes to play.
With the win in sight, a huge shove from the Ospreys pack on their 10m line at a Clermont scrum saw the visiting pack in trouble, Fritz Lee knocking on as he tried to pick up under pressure from Sam Underhill. Davies was alert, hacking the loose ball forward and a good kick chase saw Clermont penalised for holding. Davies was again on the money and the Ospreys led by five with 72 minutes gone.
Clermont pressed, searching for the late score that would break Ospreys hearts but, with the volume in the stands raising several decibels as the crowd roared their team on, wave after wave of pressure from the visitors were not just being resisted, but saw the Ospreys pushing them back time after time.
Having forced Clermont back into their own half, the Ospreys were awarded one final penalty with under two minutes remaining that Davies duly slotted over to take his team eight points clear, a scoreline that handed control of Pool 2 to his team.
The Ospreys now travel to Exeter on Sunday 24th January (3.15pm KO) in pursuit of a place in the last eight.