A derby-day victory at the Liberty Stadium maintained the Ospreys’ 100% start to the season and moved the region back to top of the PRO12.
It was a strange afternoon with the Ospreys in control for the first two-thirds of the match, but they were unable to really drive home their territorial and possession dominance as a late rally from the visitors gave the scoreline a misleading look at the final whistle.
Dan Evans’ first try of his Ospreys career, and Rhys Webb’s fifth of the season, along with 16 points from the boot of his halfback partner Dan Biggar, had put them firmly in the driving seat as they led 26-3 with just under half an hour to go, before they took their foot off the gas in the closing stages.
A positive start from the home side was rewarded with an early shot at goal after the Blues were pinged for going off their feet at the breakdown, and the ever reliable Biggar made no mistake as he gave his team the lead inside two minutes.
Much of the pre-match talk had been about the respective front rows so the first scrum of the afternoon was eagerly anticipated by everyone inside the Liberty, and there was a huge cheer from the home crowd when the Blues went down under pressure on halfway, Gethin Jenkins penalised.
That allowed Biggar to put his team back into the danger zone, and when Lewis Jones strayed offside, it was that man again with his second successful penalty.
A rampaging Dan Baker, off the back of the lineout, took the Ospreys from halfway to the Blues 22, and the referee Leighton Hodges could take his pick from the number of defenders going off their feet. After a team warning had been issued to Sam Warburton, Biggar was again on target to make it 9-0 in just 11 minutes.
By the midway point of the first half the game had barely been out of Blues territory as the Ospreys dominated, but, on a number of occasions, handling errors as they pressed meant they were unable to add to their score.
However, the Blues were reduced to 14 on 21 minutes when skipper Warburton entered a ruck from the side. Mr Hodges showed him yellow and Biggar added another three.
It was the visitors who troubled the scorers next though, Rhys Patchell successful from inside his own half after Andrew Bishop was penalised for not releasing the tackled player.
With the extra man, the Ospreys came straight back and grabbed the first try of the match just two minutes later. It came after some patient play, working through the phases to draw defenders in before spinning it wide. Biggar slipped the ball to Dan Evans, coming into the line at pace, and the full back ignored Eli Walker on his outside to cut in on his right foot past Alex Cuthbert to score. Biggar added the extras, making it 19-3 to the Ospreys.
The Ospreys then looked to carve open the Blues again after Baker, Josh Matavesi and Jeff Hassler carried well. As it was worked across field, right to left, they had a four-on-two overlap, only for Alun Wyn Jones to over-run, blocking the pass that was intended for Bishop. Although the centre was able to gather and feed a scoring pass to Walker, play was brought back after the ball had gone forward, leaving the lead at 16 points as the teams went in at the break.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 19 CARDIFF BLUES 3
The second half began in the same fashion as the first half had been played out, with the Ospreys on the offensive and, awarded a kickable penalty after the Blues has illegally brought down the maul, they opted to go for the corner. They had another go with the driving maul but were left ruing the decision as the ball somehow squirmed out to the side and the chance was gone.
However, Ospreys fans were cheering just a couple of minutes later when they second try did arrive, via the TMO. The unexpected combination of Hassler and Dmitri Arhip had originally given the Ospreys go-forward, punching a hole in the Blues midfield. After going through the phases, it was Hassler who then popped up on the wing, only to be brought down inches from the line by Gavin Evans. As the Blues defence scrambled, Webb who was the most alert and he sniped over from the foot of the ruck, Biggar converting.
A set play from a line-out involving a lovely timed run from Hassler, coming into the line in midfield, should have resulted in a third try, but Bishop failed to gather the pass with a clear run to the line in front of him.
The Ospreys were dominating all phases but as the clock moved passed the hour their opponents put together their first prolonged spell of pressure, going through multiple phases of play but coming up against a black wall at every turn. The Blues eventually run out of patience, Rhys Patchell lofting a hopeful cross kick for Alex Cuthbert to chase, which Walker was able to watch out over his head into touch with no concerns.
As the two teams rang the changes it became very stop start, and the Ospreys lineout in particular began to suffer as three times they lost the ball on their own throw deep inside the Blues’ 22, coughing up possession in threatening positions.
It had been over as a contest for most of the second half, but the Blues did add a final gloss of respectability inside the final three minutes with a brace of tries. First, it was Lloyd Williams who went over for an unconverted score after a good break from Adam Thomas and then, with Morgan Allen in the bin for pulling down the maul, the TMO awarded a try to Kristian Dacey on the final play when it appeared that Martin Roberts may have prevented the grounding.
Patchell added the extras to bring to an end a derby clash played out in front of the biggest crowd in Welsh rugby to date this season, with the win leaving the Ospreys at the top of the table as the PRO12 breaks for Europe.