Ospreys 26 Connacht 11
The 26-11 win over Connacht at the Liberty Stadium saw the Ospreys equal their best ever start to a league season, with seven wins from seven. It’s a run that when added to their victory over the same opponents on the last day of last season means that, for the first time in their history, the Ospreys have won eight consecutive league matches.
After a tight first half with chances at a premium and the two teams pegged at just one penalty apiece, the Ospreys upped the tempo to pull away from dogged opponents, Jeff Hassler and Martin Roberts both scoring tries while Sam Davies kicked 16 points.
The opening exchanges saw Davies handed an early shot at goal from halfway, Craig Ronaldson with a deliberate knock-on from Josh Matavesi’s attempted pass to Tom Grabham. The youngster’s direction was spot on but the kick faded at the last, dropping under the crossbar.
He had another go just 90 seconds later, this time 10m closer to the posts after a Connacht tackler was penalised for not releasing. This time he made no mistake, his kick going straight down the middle to put the Ospreys ahead five minutes in.
The first real threat from either side with ball in hand came close to the quarter of an hour, Grabham the catalyst with an incredible take in the air, beating Niyi Adeolokun to the high ball. His offload allowed the Ospreys to attack at pace, and it was Grabham who was involved again at the end of the move, beating two men on the left flank before trying to feed Justin Tipuric the scoring pass, only to see the defence get back to smother.
Connacht were handed the chance to level when the Ospreys were penalised after a scrum went down but Ronaldson’s kick was well off target from the 10m line.
It was proving an entertaining affair, if more than a little scrappy and, with neither side threatening the line, Davies was off target with a penalty from the right just after the 30-minute mark.
As half-time approached, Ronaldson had better luck, his kick drawing Connacht level after the Ospreys were penalised at the breakdown, making it 3-3 as the teams went in at the break.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 3 CONNACHT 3
The visitors had an early chance to take the lead but it was another penalty that failed to find the target, Ronaldson’s kick from a central position on the halfway line drifted well wide of the sticks.
The Connacht centre was handed an easier kick just a couple of minutes later after the Ospreys scrum was penalised on their 10m line and this time he made no mistake.
This drew an immediate response as they worked the first try of the night within 90 seconds. Dan Evans was the creator, running a great angle as he hit the line at pace before offloading to Hassler on his shoulder. The Canadian still had a lot of work to do but his arcing run took him around the defensive cover to score his fifth of the season in the corner.
Davies converted, and almost straight after that stretched the lead to seven with a penalty from right in front of the posts.
A 50m break from Matavesi then almost led to a second try for the Ospreys, the Fijian feeding Grabham who, with his way to the line blocked, looked to slip it back inside to his centre only to be bundled into touch deep inside the Connacht 22.
The Ospreys were now firmly well on top and a huge scrum on the Connacht 10m line was rewarded with a penalty, Davies moving the scoreboard on to 16-6.
The hour was brought up by Ronaldson going for a long-range penalty effort in an attempt to reduce the deficit but his kick never looked like finding the target.
Within two minutes the Ospreys had pulled further ahead with their second try of the night, from scrum-half Martin Roberts. It was replacement Ashley Beck, on for his first appearance of the season, who carved a hole in the Connacht defence before feeding his scrum-half who was up in support. Roberts cut infield to score only his second ever try for the region, six and a half years after his previous score. Davies added the extras with no problems.
Having lost two number eights through injury last weekend at Northampton, unvelievably the Ospreys then lost another as temporary signing Ieuan Jones was helped off with a leg injury 65 minutes into his debut.
His replacement was 19-year old Tonmawr RFC product Jordan Collier, on for his debut, and his first involvement was to win a penalty at the breakdown that Davies duly slotted over.
Connacht refused to lie down and came storming back in the closing stages. The Ospreys then forced to defend their line as the visitors patiently worked the pick and drives, looking for an opening.
It looked to have arrived when Ronaldson took the ball with an overlap to his left, only to cut inside and go for the line himself. He found himself smothered by defenders, the ball was recycled, and Hassler put in a huge hit on David McSharry on the line.
A penalty then went Connacht’s way and they went for the line from close range, the TMO correctly ruling that the Connacht player reaching from the line had been prevented by an Osprey hand getting under the ball a metre out.
The pressure finally told after Andrew Bishop was penalised for going off his feet as Connacht edged close to the line, clean line out ball then allowing Eoin McKeon to drive over the line from close range with three minutes remaining but the conversion attempt was off target.
There was still time for debutant Collier to incur the wrath of the officials, sinbinned with seconds to go, but it wouldn’t spoil the evening as the Ospreys secured the win to keep their 100% record in the PRO12 intact.