The Ospreys overcome a storming second half comeback from the visitors to make it 11 Heineken Cup matches without defeat at the Liberty Stadium
A Dan Biggar penalty in the 64th minute proved the difference between the two sides in a pulsating encounter, the Ospreys racing into a 22-3 half-time lead, only for Clermont Auvergne to fight back and take the lead with 21 unanswered points in the opening 14 minutes of the second period.
With Biggar kicking off, the Ospreys got off to a bright start, taking the lead after just 90 seconds through a James Hook drop goal after some nice passing moves to create the opportunity, Biggar and Barry Davies both punching holes in the visitors defence during the build up.
Biggar was pulling the strings as the Opreys controlled the opening exchanges, and it was no surprise when they extended their lead 7 minutes later, Nikki Walker spotting a gap behind the Clermont defence and cleverly chipped through, allowing Tommy Bowe to win the footrace and make it 8-0 to the home side, Biggar narrowly missing the conversion attempt.
It was an entertaining and often frantic opening quarter, with an interesting clash of styles, as the Ospreys looked to keep the ball alive in hand while their opponents favoured to take contact up front at every opportunity. Winger Shane Williams was forced into defensive action to stop the charge of hooker Mario Ledesma near the touchline, before the visitors got themselves on the scoreboard after the forwards had rumbled forward ominously, allowing outside half Brock James to pop over a drop goal to reduce the deficit.
Biggar then spurned the opportunity to extend the lead, his penalty drifting to the right of the posts, before Clermont’s second row Thibault Privat was sent to the sin bin in the 25th minute for obstructing Shane Williams as he chased a Mike Phillips kick through.
The Ospreys almost created a second try almost instantly, Hook and Biggar combining well near the touchline to feed Alun-Wyn Jones, who unexpectedly chipped over the covering defender but was unable to win the chase to touch down.
The respite for the visitors was only temporary though, as the Ospreys extended their lead in the 28th minute. Mike Phillips did the initial damage with a burst from the base of an attacking scrum, and when he was held up under the posts, it was recycled for captain Ryan Jones to charge over unchallenged, Biggar adding the extras.
Jerry Collins then followed Privat into the sinbin for a late challenge on Brock James as he looked to manoeuvre his team behind the Ospreys defence with his boot.
The Ospreys were then forced into a change with Mike Phillips leaving the field injured, Jamie Nutbrown replacing, but the switch didn’t seem to affect their rhythm, only the whistle of referee Wayne Barnes halting their progress as the backs combined to send Barry Davies racing through, only for the final pass to be adjudged forward.
With the Ospreys dominating in terms of territory, Richard Hibbard was then introduced as a blood replacement for Huw Bennett, and then, with both teams back up to 15, the home team grabbed their third try of the afternoon on the stroke of half time. It was a well-worked move, sparked by a perfect chip forward by Biggar that was collected at full pace by Bowe. The Irishman moved it along to Hook, who fed full-back Barry Davies as he burst into the line and raced home from the 22 to score, Biggar converting to make it 22-3 at the break.
HALF TIME: OSPREYS 22 ASM CLERMONT AUVERGNE 3
The Ospreys were served a stark reminder that there was still a lot of work to be done if they were to secure the victory, as Clermont struck first in the second half. After moving the ball through several phases, flanker Julien Bonnaire dinked it forward, and it was a simple race between him and his team-mate Benoit Baby for the touchdown, the winger getting there first, James adding the two points to make it 22-10.
The French side were enjoying their best spell of the game, and with their colourful and noisy supporters adding to the occasion at the Liberty Stadium, they began to put the Ospreys under considerable pressure, Nutbrown being forced to concede a scrum five which resulted in a penalty being awarded to the visitors. After opting to take the scrum once again, they looked to turn the screw, and replacement prop Thomas Domingo dived over from close range, with the referee duly awarding the try after a quick consultation with the TMO, James converting.
It got worse for the Ospreys just a minute or so later, the French side grabbing their third try in controversial circumstances, Alexandre Lapandry taking a pass from Ladesma that appeared to go forward and diving over. After a quick chat with his touch judge, Mr Barnes duly awarded the try to bring the scores level with James converting to put the visitors in front for the first time.
The Ospreys response was to send on front row replacements, Paul James and Craig Mitchell on for Duncan Jones and Cai Griffiths, Ian Gough replacing Jonathan Thomas in the second row and Filo Tiatia for Marty Holah in the back row.
The changes seemed to give the home side new spark, and they were rewarded for a huge push in the scrum on 64 minutes with a penalty on the 10 metre line, Biggar slotting over confidently to put his team back in front.
Clermont looked to have responded instantly, cleverly working an overlap and spreading it out wide to Napolini Nalaga who seemed certain to score in the corner, only for the last ditch tackle of Barry Davies to force him into touch as he grounded, Mr Barnes ruling out the try after referring to the TMO for a second time in the half.
With the Ospreys a point ahead, it was a nailbiting finish, and after James hit a long range penalty against the upright, the home side were able to hold on to secure an important win that leaves them unbeaten after two games in Pool 3 ahead of the December double header against Viadana